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‘There’s scope for growth’: Damien Byrne Hill on taking over HSF’s disputes team

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) today (21 February) announced that much-touted banking litigator Damien Byrne Hill will be replacing Mark Shillito as head of disputes for the UK and US on 1 May.

Unsurprisingly as one of the key names in what remains the City’s bellwether ComLit shop, Byrne Hill has acted on a string of marquee matters in his 27 years at HSF (by way of legacy Herbert Smith), including defending Goldman Sachs in a $1.2bn claim brought by the Libyan Investment Authority. Shillito, who had run the practice for ten years, including steering it through a turbulent period in the wake of its 2012 union with Australian leader Freehills, returns to full time fee earning.

Legal Business caught up with Byrne Hill to discuss his new role:

LB: How does it feel as a HSF-lifer to become head of disputes?

Truthfully it is not what I had ever planned to do. But now that I’ve agreed to do it I am genuinely excited about what I can bring to the role and continue the things that have started under Mark.

LB: How would you describe the job your predecessor has done?

I hadn’t realised that he had done it for so long. He’s a very level-headed partner who fully understands the value of the thing he is charged with looking after. He listens fairly to new ideas and it’s enabled us to respond to change over time.

LB: Do you think you’ve just taken over the most difficult job at the firm? Disputes remains the core brand for HSF.

Managing a practice that is very successful has challenges, but it’s not as difficult as trying to build a new practice or run a practice that needs to be transformed. There’s scope for growth and development, but against the backdrop of a very successful practice.

LB: What are your ambitions for the US disputes practice?

I don’t take over until 1 May so my view is currently parochial rather than the one I’ll develop over time. That said, we need to build in relation to the areas which we originally set the offices up to do: arbitration, corporate crime and investigations and the US aspect of international litigation.

LB: How does this appointment compare to some of the other highlights of your career?

The closest comparison is being made a partner in 2000. That marks the recognition of one’s partners, which is difficult to beat.

LB: What attracted you to HSF in the first place then?

One was disputes, which I knew I wanted to do. The other was shipping, which I thought I wanted to do. As it turned out, I never did any shipping. When studying law, shipping had some of the most interesting disputes so I thought it was the pinnacle of litigation. I’m not sure it is now.

(£) For more on HSF, read this month’s interview with the firm’s chief executive Mark Rigotti.