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Taking action: HSF sues partners who quit to launch White & Case in Australia

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is suing eight partners who quit to join White & Case, filing a lawsuit at the Supreme Court of New South Wales last week.

Led by Melbourne litigation partner Michael Pryse, a group of 167 HSF partners are bringing claims against former Melbourne partners Andrew Clark, Brendan Quinn, Alan Rosengarten, Josh Sgro, Tim Power, Jared Muller and Joanne Draper, alongside Joel Rennie from the Sydney office.

Hong Kong partner Fergus Smith and Singapore partner Matthew Osborne are not named as defendants in the case despite also joining White & Case. Associates Adeline Pang and Ged Cochrane and special counsel Michelle Keen are also excluded from the suit despite already working at White & Case as partners. The first hearing of the case is scheduled for 27 February.

White & Case’s move late last year to hire the 10-partner project finance team from HSF was one of the largest legal moves ever in the Asian market. A senior partner at White & Case has indicated that the team controls around £30m of business, while HSF put the figure at around £20m when calculated using an average of the team’s billings over three years.

According to local media, the partners are subject to a six-month notice period after resignation, and a further six-month period which prohibits them from practising at a rival firm as a partner. This means that the partners would not be able to practice until September 2017.

Legacy Herbert Smith had some of the toughest exit terms in the City which led to a stand-off when property partner Chris de Pury quit for Berwin Leighton Paisner. Herbert Smith had threatened to enforce a 12 month convenant on top of a year’s notice.

However the firm’s merger agreement with Freehills overhauled the terms, cutting the notice period from 12 months to six, making it easier for partners to quit at a vulnerable moment.

A White & Case spokesperson said: ‘Although we’re not party to this litigation, we are hopeful for a speedy resolution.’

HSF declined to comment.

Read more on the firm in: ‘Taking over – one leader at HSF but is the culture clash over?