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Whiteford becomes the latest to quit KWM after sealing move to Covington

Competition litigator Elaine Whiteford has become the second London partner to quit King & Wood Mallesons‘ European practice for Covington & Burling in the past week.

Whiteford (pictured) leaves KWM just three and a half years after joining from Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). She reunites with former KWM London litigation head Alex Leitch, who joined Covington at the start of 2015 in a reboot of the firm’s City disputes practice, and last week’s recruit Greg Lascelles.

Her exit comes as a blow to KWM’s leadership, which has been working hard to halt a damaging run of partner exits in 2016, with the biggest damage coming in April when a six-partner private equity team in Paris switched to Goodwin Procter. The exits have coincided with, but are not part of, a partnership restructuring that saw 24 partners in Europe and the Middle East asked to leave in March.

Whiteford’s departure also coincides with Norton Rose Fulbright announcing today (18 July) it has hired disputes partner Paul Stothard from KWM. Stothard’s practice is based in London and Dubai.

Having started her career in Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s renowned City competition team in 2000, Whiteford left 11 years later to make partner at BLP. Her practice is based around advising corporates on investigations by the European Commission and UK competition authorities, and ‘follow on’ litigation in the English courts. One of her biggest cases at KWM saw her advise Luton Airport in a bus concessions dispute that stands as one of the few abuse of dominance cases to go to trial in England.

Whiteford becomes Covington’s third major competition hire in Europe this year, following the arrival of Kevin Coates, who headed a cartel unit at the European Commission, and Sophie Bertin, a former state aid official at DG Comp, in Brussels.

Leitch said: ‘She brings a wealth of EU litigation experience, which we see as a real asset in the current market, impacted by many developments around Europe, including Brexit related disputes, and the new class action regime in the United Kingdom.’

Law firms in the City have been gearing up for a slew of competition-based disputes following the introduction of US-style class actions in the UK late last year in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. US litigation firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan announced earlier this month it is bringing a £19bn claim against MasterCard on behalf of UK consumers hit with ‘illegal’ credit and debit card charges in one of the first claims of its kind.

Read more in the feature: ‘Branded – Inside the troubled takeover of SJ Berwin’