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Revolving doors: Disputes dominate as Willkie and HFW make major London team hires

In a headline week for the London disputes market, a three-partner antitrust litigation team from Quinn Emanuel’s market-leading practice has decamped to Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

The team is spearheaded by partner Boris Bronfentrinker, who notably led on the landmark £14bn Mastercard interchange fee Supreme Court case last December. He will be joined by fellow contentious competition partners Elaine Whiteford and Nicola Chesaites as well as a team of eight associates.

Bronfentrinker told Legal Business: ‘It’s sad to leave Quinn Emanuel after seven years but in the end it came down to cultural issues and differences of views. That is why I leave wishing the firm success. Willkie was a no-brainer for me. It does have a more defendant profile with its client base and very strong non-contentious competition practice in London, Brussels and Germany, as well as in the US – meaning we will be able to continue taking on the defence of large competition disputes. However, they are also open to doing claimant side cases, meaning we can continue to run these types of cases at Willkie.

‘I expect us to continue having a market-leading contentious practice acting on both sides of these disputes, and for that practice to grow even larger, with representations in the most significant competition cases. It is all hugely exciting.’

A statement from Quinn Emanuel said: ‘We wish Boris, Elaine, and Nicola well and thank them for the contribution to our practice.  Antitrust and competition litigation remains a key focus for Quinn Emanuel in the US, London, and Brussels and we will continue to build on our existing practice that encompasses both claimant and defence representation.’

The team hire is a major statement of intent for Willkie, with last week’s launch of an arbitration practice via the appointment of partner Duncan Speller from WilmerHale  underlining its commitment to entering the disputes market.

Similarly, HFW has hired a leading white-collar crime team from Greenberg Traurig, with the arrival of partners Barry Vitou and Anne-Marie Ottaway. Both partners have solid credentials in the market, with Vitou previously acting as global co-chair of Greenberg’s white-collar practice, while Ottaway brings 13 years of in-house experience from the Serious Fraud Office.

Jeremy Shebson, HFW managing partner, commented: ‘It isn’t every day that you get a chance to bring in two genuine market leaders in such a field such as white-collar criminal defence. Barry and Anne-Marie have a formidable track record of handling investigations and defending clients in high-profile cases, and will be a great addition to our global disputes practice.’

It was also a productive week for Fieldfisher, with the firm hiring two new partners. Firstly, it expanded its corporate team by hiring former PwC director Thomas Colmer. Formerly general counsel of global fintech group ION trading, Colmer is highly experienced in advising clients in the tech, financial services and life sciences sectors on both domestic and cross-border transactions.

And Fieldfisher bolstered its media group via the appointment of ex-Paul Hastings partner Stephen Saltzman. With a strong background of advising on international transactions in the entertainment industry, in 2020 Saltzman assisted Chinese studio Huayi Brothers International as it bankrolled $140m indie film Moonfall.

Head of Fieldfisher’s media team, Tim Johnson, said: ‘Adding Steve to our media team is a significant boost to our growth plans.  Steve’s deep experience of cross-border deals is an excellent fit with our existing media practice and our network of offices in Europe and Asia.  It will strengthen our offering to clients seeking expertise across continents.’

Following the team hire trend, Clyde & Co has invested in an aviation team from REN Legal. Led by partners Norman Fraser and Richard Mumford, the arriving team also includes ten other legal professionals and support staff.

Fraser specialises in a range of aviation finance, leasing and trading matters while Mumford brings a disputes expertise to the aviation sector. Fraser summed up the move: ‘Joining a world-renowned aviation practice enables us to extend our support to clients with the backing of the significant resources and global network on offer at the firm. I look forward to becoming a part of the team here at Clyde & Co and taking advantage of the clear synergies between our respective expertise.’

Also, in London, Kennedys has hired seasoned former Weightmans insurance partner Simon Durkin. Durkin is an experienced advisor who exclusively acts for reinsurers in the UK and globally. He works across a range of sectors, including construction, automotive, energy, electronics, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food and drink.

And in a significant move for the London Bar, Wilberforce Chambers has announced that former High Court judge Sir Paul Morgan has joined as an arbitrator. Morgan had recently retired after a 14-year spell as a High Court judge, having also sat as a judge in the Upper Tribunal, the Competition Appeal Tribunal and the Administrative Court.

Head of chambers Brian Green QC said of Morgan: ‘He has an outstanding reputation as a courteous, considered and rigorous judge with a capacity to deal with a wide variety of commercial cases. In addition to his original property specialisms whilst at the Bar, in which he was recognised as a leader in his field, Sir Paul was invariably a pleasure to appear before, and we very much look forward on a personal as well as a professional level to having him as a colleague.’

Irwin Mitchell has expanded its property law credentials with two hires this week. Firstly, it has acquired former Knights partner Stelios Coutsavlis in Manchester. Coutsavlis regularly advises developers on projects involving renewable and mainstream energy, senior living and for public authorities and developers on urban regeneration projects. Coutsavlis will be joined by partner Ben Rogers, a transactional property lawyer who was previously a legal director at DLA Piper, who will be based in Sheffield.

On the international front, Weil has hired restructuring partner Kathleen Aka from Ropes & Gray in Hong Kong. She has extensive experience advising both debtors and creditors in relation to contentious and non-contentious restructuring and insolvency matters in the Asia-Pacific region. Weil’s Hong Kong managing partner Tim Gardner noted: ‘With robust experience advising Asia-based and global clients on complex restructuring and insolvency matters across geographies and industries, Kathleen will be a tremendous asset to our clients in Asia and beyond.’

White & Case made two international hires this week. In Johannesburg, the firm has hired debt finance partner Lindani Mthembu from Allen & Overy, bringing over 15 years of experience in the market. And in Tokyo, White & Case has appointed M&A and private equity partner Naoya Shiota, who joins from leading domestic firm Mori Hamada & Matsumoto.