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Latham targets Asian private equity market with hires from Clifford Chance and Freshfields

After making significant investment into its European private equity practice to transform it into one of the region’s biggest private equity players, US firm Latham & Watkins has set its sights on Asia with a triple hire and two relocations.

Having kick-started its drive into European private equity market with the hire of Clifford Chance’s private equity chief David Walker in 2013, Latham returned to the Magic Circle firm to hire Hong Kong deal doer Simon Cooke as it turns its attention to Asia. Cooke leaves Clifford Chance after two decades at the firm, the last nine of which have been as a partner.

Having so far struggled to gain a strong footing in the Asia market, Cooke arrives as part of a triple hire into Asia with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer counsel Amy Beckingham joining as a partner and Hogan Lovells leveraged finance partner Gary Hamp also joining in Hong Kong.

Latham, which has built its global expansion around cornerstone private equity and capital markets practices, is applying the same formula to its expansion in Asia as PE takes off in the region. Asian tycoons have historically shut out private equity firms and preferred to make direct investments but that appears to be changing, with US consultancy firm Bain reporting that PE in the Asia-Pacific region broke out of a sobering two-year slump in 2014 as deal values broke previous records and more funds were raised.

Cooke and Beckingham, M&A lawyers with a track record of selling companies through IPOs, are expected to work closely with leveraged finance specialist Hamp. Also arriving in Asia are high yield partner James Burnett and restructuring partner Josef Athanas, who relocate to Hong Kong from London and Chicago respectively.

Latham chair and managing partner Bill Voge said: ‘Latham has been deeply involved in the development of private equity and leveraged finance markets in the United States and Europe, and there are clear signs that those markets are growing and evolving in Asia. The arrival of these partners in Hong Kong, along with the talented team in London, New York and other global financial capitals, puts us in place to capitalise on these trends.’

Cooke added: ‘Latham has had significant success in its other markets and the firm’s commitment to achieve the same market stature in Asia, together with its incredibly strong finance platform, is very attractive to me.’

Bryant Edwards, Latham’s Asia chair, said the firm ‘saw strong growth in private equity and related finance in London and Europe 10 years ago’ and is ‘seeing the same patterns in Asia today, in particular where high yield has grown to become a significant part of leveraged finance’.