Legal Business Blogs

‘Very selective’: DLA goes to Freshfields for rare City corporate hire in wake of London losses

It has been something of a one-way street out of DLA Piper’s London office recently but the global giant believes it has filled a gap in its corporate practice with the hire of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer veteran Martin Nelson-Jones.

Nelson-Jones had been partner at Freshfields since 2001 and was previously the firm’s co-head of global infrastructure and transport. He specialises in M&A, particularly in the energy and infrastructure sectors. He first joined Freshfields in 1991.

DLA global corporate co-chair Bob Bishop told Legal Business that infrastructure had been a gap the corporate practice had been looking to fill with a senior hire. The firm was always looking to deepen its corporate bench, which has more than 20 partners, but its strategy in recent years was to focus on hires which added new expertise rather than just putting bums on seats.

‘We are keen to grow our London corporate group, but particularly in specialisms. One is infrastructure. We see a lot of investment coming into infrastructure globally. There’s a lot of money chasing a small number of assets.’

Bishop believes Nelson-Jones was attracted to DLA’s comparatively broader international platform, saying DLA was focused on global deals in a wide spectrum of sectors. The firm advised on the highest number of deals in Europe last year, according to Mergermarket statistics – the eighth consecutive year DLA has topped the rankings by volume.

Nelson-Jones’ hire comes amid a turbulent few months at DLA, who recently lost one of its brightest deal stars when Anu Balasubramanian left to lead Paul Hastings’ private equity team in London.

That blow followed a high-profile partner exodus to McDermott Will & Emery, which most recently saw the departure of City real estate trio Laurence Rogers, Neville Wright and Tom Calnan.

Bishop said it was a shame to see Balasubramanian leave but added he was confident the practice would continue to build, saying the market was ‘very buoyant’ with both significant, headline deals and large volumes overall.

Nelson-Jones is DLA’s eleventh partner hire in London in the past 18 months. Corporate laterals in the City have been hard to come by, however, with the most notable in recent years stretching back to private equity partner Tim Wright from KWM in mid-2014. The firm made up one partner in its corporate practice this year.

Bishop commented: ‘We continue to look to add people but we also want the right people. We’ve intentionally been very selective about what we will and won’t do.’

Meanwhile at Freshfields, Nelson-Jones’ departure comes after the high-profile loss of corporate heavyweight David Higgins to Kirkland & Ellis and the retirement of stalwart dealmaker Simon Marchant as London corporate head .