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WilmerHale review set to shut City branch to refocus on Mayfair arbitration team

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr is set to close one of its two London offices, with its 10-lawyer transactional outpost in the City currently being reviewed amid expectations that the office will be wound down. The review is likely to result in the US law firm refocusing its London practice heavily around its arbitration team at its existing Mayfair office, according to two current partners.

Headed by life sciences M&A specialist, Joe Pillman, WilmerHale’s Alder Castle office near St Paul’s Cathedral is expected to be wound down nearly 20 years after it opened for business. A partner at the firm confirmed that ‘there are discussions to try to transition people out of there because it’s not something that fits with what the firm is doing’.

The office currently holds five partners, two counsel and three associates carrying out litigation, corporate, finance and employment work. It was set up in the late 1990s by the legacy Hale and Dorr, before the Boston-bred law firm combined with Washington DC leader Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in 2004.

The firm has operated with two London offices since that merger over a decade ago, with Hale and Dorr having originally launched the site in a bid to secure tech-focused work. While WilmerHale’s renowned arbitration team at the firm’s other London office, on Park Lane, has grown in size and stature since the merger, the Alder Castle branch has shrunk over the last decade.

Partners at the office include employment lawyer David Andrews, employee benefits specialist Paula Holland, IP litigator Anthony Trenton and corporate duo Pillman and Michael Holter. Legal Business understands that WilmerHale will retain Trenton, who launched the firm’s IP litigation practice in September 2014 when he joined from Dentons, as the firm looks to build a transatlantic IP litigation team following the arrival of big-billing Trevor Cook from Bird & Bird the previous year. Cook relocated to the US as part of that move. It is not clear if other lawyers in the Alder Castle office are to transfer to Park Lane.

Pillman currently splits his time between London and Oxford, where the firm has a small office, and the team is known for its Thames Valley work. Julia Bracewell, who has served stints as a director of British Fencing and chair of sportscotland, and formerly headed Morrison & Foerster’s UK corporate practice, is a counsel at the Alder Gate office.

A WilmerHale partner commented: ‘The problem is that it doesn’t fit with what the firm is. The firm would like to have their practices be more robust firm-wide but we’re a litigation, regulatory and specialised corporate firm. We’re not a Wall Street or City finance firm so to support those practices is tough. Why do you want people who are treading water in practice areas that aren’t obvious to have outside of the US because we don’t have the critical mass to make them fly?’ There are people who are good at what they do, they have enough work, but don’t really have a coherent reason for being there.’

WilmerHale declined to comment.