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Q&A: Latham’s Lacovara on litigation, Trump and leaving Freshfields

Legal Business catches up with Latham & Watkins litigation partner and former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer executive partner Michael Lacovara about his move to the firm, US elections and his time within the Magic Circle.

Why Latham?

It was a difficult decision to leave Freshfields for a number of reasons but Latham was a pretty natural choice for me. I had clerked at Latham as a summer associate in 1988 and there were still some folks around from way back when. I knew a lot of their antitrust lawyers and I had a good sense of their practice, particularly the litigation practice they’re trying to grow in New York, and that was very much where I wanted to take the last arc of my career.

How much litigation is coming out of the US at the moment?

Enough to keep me and everyone else at Latham very busy. We’ve occasionally said to non-US clients that at times America’s number one export is litigation. At least for the moment we don’t see any signs that that’s abating because there’s a lot of particularly big companies and big financial entities that they think are worth fighting about. We remain in a very active regulatory environment on both the financial and the corporate side, which leads to a lot of investigation and litigation work.

What’s the mood like now that Trump’s been voted in as President?

I happened to be in San Francisco on the night of the election, which is one of the most liberal cities in the United States. The mood at the time was shock and awe but what’s interesting is that one of the traditions that Americans can be proud of is we really do believe, no matter how surprising the American President is in some quarters, a peaceful transition of power and the existence of a spirited but loyal opposition is key to our system.

What impact will this have on the legal market?

It’s interesting because Trump hasn’t been as deep or elaborate on his policy pronouncements. He has on the antitrust side expressed something of a traditional populist sentiment in the United States that he’s opposed to big business and big mergers, which may mean that, unusually for a Republican administration, there’ll be pretty vigorous antitrust enforcement on both the conduct side and the merger side.

You had an executive position at Freshfields, why the decision to leave?

My mother who’s a psychologist would say, ‘You always want to do something if you’re running to, not running from’. It was very, very difficult to leave Freshfields where I had many good friends, where I felt I was doing some good things on the management side, but as a personal matter living two weeks in London and two weeks in New York was very difficult. The attraction to being able to build a practice on a US platform and a global platform that Latham has was too compelling to turn down.

What was your biggest achievement at Freshfields?

That’s probably a question put to my former partners, but I hope while I was in management I brought some additional level of rigour and focus on the business side of the firm to make sure efforts were really expended on serving clients and serving each other in being a somewhat more efficiently run exercise.

How is the culture different at US and UK firms?

I’m not sure I would say Latham’s a US firm so much as a firm which has its largest offices in New York. I’m a New Yorker by birth and in New York and at most New York law firms, folks are very direct with each other. You say what you mean, good, bad or indifferent and you move on as colleagues and friends. That’s how I grew up as family and in practice.

Read more in the feature: ‘The firm most likely – can anything halt Latham’s global rise?’