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Herbert Smith counters Thierbach loss with King & Spalding hire

Just over a month since news broke that its high-profile capital markets head Steve Thierbach was leaving, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has appointed King & Spalding’s Tom O’Neill to head its US securities practice.

Capital markets partner O’Neill leaves King & Spalding just a year after joining the firm from Linklaters. His move to King & Spalding was seen as integral part of the US firm’s capital markets play in the City, recruited as part of a double hire alongside Latham & Watkins’ New York-qualified counsel Markus Bauman.

O’Neill’s arrival is a noteworthy move for HSF following the loss of Thierbach and fellow capital markets partner Christopher Haynes in September to US firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. One senior partner at HSF said at the time ‘it is imperative that the firm finds a replacement’. 

HSF has binned the head of capital markets role following Thierbach’s exit, with the post split into three separate positions. While O’Neill will head US securities, Charles Howarth has been made equity capital markets chief and Andrew Roberts, a 2011 hire from Linklaters, will head the debt capital markets division.

New York qualified O’Neill, who left Linklaters after 13 years as a partner to join King & Spalding, specialises in corporate finance and securities offerings and spent seven years in Linklaters’ Paris office before heading up the firm’s Turkey desk from London.

He is particularly known for his advisory role on the £1.9bn privatisation of Royal Mail in 2013 from his time at Linklaters, as well as transactions for Thomas Cook and Direct Line.

He will become a cornerstone of HSF’s capital markets practice, after the firm lost four high-profile lawyers over the past three years: Jim Wickenden, who Thierbach succeeded as capital markets chief, departed for Allen & Overy in late 2012 and Alex Bafi, who sat on the firm’s partnership council, left at the start of 2015 to join Clifford Chance.

HSF UK head of corporate Scott Cochrane said: ‘Tom is well regarded by clients and peers and his wealth of experience complements our leading capital markets practice. This important and strategic hire is a testament to our commitment to providing top quality advice on capital markets transactions for our clients.’