Legal Business

Deal View: Despite that late start, Willkie underlines surprisingly forceful City buyout push with hire of GavDav

Deal View: Despite that late start, Willkie underlines surprisingly forceful City buyout push with hire of GavDav

Affectionately known in buyout circles as ‘GavDav’, the long-time duo of private equity specialists Gavin Gordon and David Arnold has finally landed at Willkie Farr & Gallagher from Kirkland & Ellis after months of speculation.

While Kirkland may play down its significance, it is nevertheless a rare and high-profile exit for the Chicago-bred juggernaut and a chance for Willkie – a firm whose progress in the City has been muted compared with many US peers given the quality of its US private equity practice – to finally get its brand on the radar in London.

Legal Business

KWM co-head of funds in Paris exits for Willkie Farr

KWM co-head of funds in Paris exits for Willkie Farr

King & Wood Mallesons‘ co-head of investment funds in Paris, Nathalie Duguay, has joined Willkie Farr & Gallagher as asset management partner.

One of legacy SJ Berwins top ten billers last year, Duguay specialises in private equity investment funds and joined legacy SJ Berwin in 2001 as founding partner of the firm’s Paris office, after having been an M&A associate at Salans since 1998.

Earlier this week, Stephenson Harwood picked up three King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) private equity partners including former UK private equity co-head Jonathan Pittal, one of the four heavyweights that quit the firm in October.

Warren Allan and Gabriel Boghossian will join Pittal at the LB100 firm. The trio of partners are expected to take with them as many as six associates and two trainees.

KWM’s Paris office was raided by Goodwin Procter in March this 2015, when the firm opened its Paris office with a six-partner team from KWM, which represented the bulk of its private equity (PE) practice including office managing partner Maxence Bloch. KWM’s Richard Lever and Simon Fulbrook had also joined Goodwin in spring 2015. KWM has since filed a lawsuit against Lever and his new firm on the basis of hiring the PE team in Paris.

Meanwhile, Goodwin Procter has applied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for permission to bring in five trainees. The trainees will join investment funds partner and major biller Michael Halford. It was announced he would be joining the US firm in November

Yesterday (5 January) it emerged Baker & McKenzie will take on two partners from KWM including private equity partner Will Holder and employment partner Carl Richards. The pair arrive with a team of five associates including members of the private equity and employment teams. Fieldfisher has also hired technology partner James Walsh, whilst Debevoise & Plimpton announced it is taking on private equity lawyer Simon Witney as a consultant.

KWM is currently in the process of appointing administrators before 16 January. In December the firm confirmed its European arm had filed a Notice of Intention to Appoint Administrators with the court.

On Wednesday (4 January) it was revealed by Legal Business that KWM’s European arm had stopped paying 100 staff. Employees were notified of the decision on 3 January – the first day back for many after the Christmas break.

Read more on KWM in ‘Comment: The moment of truth arrives in the SJ Berwin saga’

For an in-depth assessment of KWM, subscribers can see our July cover feature ‘Branded’


Legal Business

Willkie Farr takes top KWM biller to launch competition practice in the City


King and Wood Mallesons (KWM) has lost another heavy-hitter as competition partner Philipp Girardet exits the firm to set up Willkie Farr & Gallagher‘s London competition practice.

Girardet, who will join with a team including associate Rahul Saha, advises on a broad range of EU and UK competition law, competition litigation and regulatory issues. Girardet will be a significant loss for the legacy SJ Berwin partnership as he is understood to have been one the top 20 billers of the 2015/16 financial year.

Previously Girardet was the deputy director of the cartels branch of the UK competition authority for two years from 2005 and during his career has worked closely with the European Commission, the US Department of Justice and OECD Competition Section.

Girardet is the latest in a concerted push by Willkie Farr in its London office across the past 12 months with those partners making the jump to the New York-based firm including corporate partners Mark Fine from Bain Capital Credit where he was European general counsel and Andy Tromans from Clyde & Co.

Head of Willkie Farr’s European competition and antitrust practice Jacques-Philippe Gunther said: ‘The addition of Philipp, a highly respected UK-qualified competition practitioner, together with his team in London and in Brussels, is another major step in our strategy to develop a first class platform for complex European merger, investigation and litigation matters; it follows our recent hiring of a top German antitrust partner Suzanne Zuehlke last year.’

Law firms in the City have been gearing up for a slew of competition disputes following the introduction of US-style class actions in the UK late last year in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan announced in July it is bringing a 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.

KWM also lost competition litigator Elaine Whiteford and litigator Greg Lascelles who both left for Covington & Burling in July. The firm has endured a string of exits during a turbulent 18 months after a restructuring in March, when 24 partners were asked to leave, brought about unintended consequences. The firm has since replaced its managing partner and senior partner for Europe.

For more on competition in the City see: ‘Less bark, more bite – competition to the fore as tougher enforcement arrives’


Legal Business

Revolving doors: Willkie and Hogan Lovells add to City offices while A&O continues Europe hiring


Law firms have attempted to blow away the Brexit blues with new partner hires. Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Hogan Lovells have added to their London offices, while in the Magic Circle Allen & Overy has expanded in Germany and Clifford Chance has boosted its Washington DC practice.

Hogan Lovells has grown its London tax practice to seven with the addition of Elliot Weston who joins from Gowling WLG.

Weston has previously acted on real estate and funds matters, as well as M&A and joint ventures. His past work includes the £100m public listing of student accommodation firm REIT on the London Stock Exchange.

Hogan Lovells tax co-head Karen Hughes said: ‘Given [Elliot’s] significant track record in the real estate sector and in the funds market, I know he will help bring further opportunities across the corporate practice group.’

New York-based Willkie has hired former Herbert Smith Freehills financial services consultant Henrietta de Salis as a partner in its London office.

De Salis joins the firm’s London asset management group and financial services department. She has previously worked at Linklaters in the financial regulation group and as head of capital markets at reinsurer Swiss Re. Willkie recently added Bain Capital Credit’s European GC Mark Fine as a partner in May this year.

In the US, Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance has enhanced its litigation practice by adding Janet Whittaker as a partner, joining from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

Whittaker has worked on international commercial arbitrations in energy, oil and gas, IT and private equity and previously acted as legal counsel at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Clifford Chance Americas litigation and disputes resolution head David DiBari said: ‘We are committed to expanding our US Litigation and Arbitration practice in the US through key lateral hirings and organic growth. Janet is a great addition to our team.’

In Germany, Allen & Overy (A&O) boosted its global antitrust practice, appointing Börries Ahrens in its Hamburg office as partner. Ahrens joins from White & Case, where he became a partner in 2010.

A&O Germany senior partner Neil Weiand said: ‘Ahrens enjoys an excellent reputation in the German market. With his appointment, we are strengthening our German teams in response to clients’ growing needs for advice on antitrust issues.’

Ahrens will work alongside partners Ellen Braun and Jürgen Schindler, and he joins following the appointment of Yvo de Vries as partner based in Amsterdam. De Vries served as head of legal compliance at Philips Lighting.

Legal Business

Willkie hires Bain euro GC as Wall St player strives to establish itself in City buyout sector


Willkie Farr & Gallagher has made a prominent recruit to its London arm with the appointment of Bain Capital Credit’s European general counsel Mark Fine as a partner.

Prior to his role at Bain, which holds $30.1bn in assets under management, Fine was a partner in the debt finance team at Kirkland & Ellis. He specialises in debt transactions for borrowers and lenders covering a wide range of acquisition finance, distressed investments and restructurings. He also cut his teeth as an associate at Norton Rose.

Chairman Thomas Cerabino commented: ‘The addition of Mark in London reflects the firm’s ongoing commitment to the European private lending sector and the continuing growth of its representation of key private equity and direct lending firms.’

However, the appointment follows the departure of Willkie leveraged finance partner James Crooks to Sidley Austin last week (26 April) when it was announced that Crooks will re-join six former Kirkland partners at Sidley. Sidley made a splash with the high stakes recruitment of the Kirkland team earlier this year, signalling its move beyond its structured finance core into more mainstream deal work in London.

Despite being a late entrant to English law corporate work, Willkie Farr has made efforts to build its City offering in recent years, including the establishment of a buyout practice with the hire of private equity duo Matthew Dean and Claire McDaid from Kirkland in 2014. The New York-based law firm had previously largely focused on handling English law corporate work through a referral relationship with Anglo-Scots corporate boutique Dickson Minto.

Kirkland partner Ashley Young, who relocated to London from Hong Kong in 2014, has been seconded to fill the role left by Fine at Bain. Young is a longstanding adviser to Bain and previously advised it and GIC on a multimillion dollar investment in QuEST Global Services.

Legal Business

Dealwatch: US firms line up as Russia’s largest driller prepares exit from London stock exchange


The management of Eurasia Drilling Company Limited is being advised by US firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher as it prepares to sell to major shareholders and exit the London stock exchange, after Schlumberger gave up on a deal to buy into the company.

Eurasia’s special board committee, which recommended the delisting deal, is being advised by a Willkie Farr team led by partner François Feuillat and associate Matteo Matteucci, while Maples and Calder are representing the committee in the Cayman Islands. Feuillat had acted for the committee in its failed deal with Schlumberger when he was at Vinson & Elkins and the client returned to him after he joined Wilkie Farr in July.  

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom which had acted for EDC Acquisition Company in the failed Schlumberger deal, reprised their role for the negotiations. Skadden partner Danny Tricot was the lead partner for the buy-out group, which is also being advised by Walkers in the Cayman Islands.

The proposed transaction is a Cayman Islands merger which requires approval from a two-third majority of shareholders, and is expected to be finalised in November.

Feuillat told Legal Business the recent Integra case out of the Cayman courts supports minority shareholders so lawyers took extra care during the process and ensure valuations were done properly, requiring co-operation between the lawyers and financial advisers involved.

Any legal challenge from minority shareholders over the fair value of the company was unlikely to succeed, Feuillat said, because the Integra precedent was followed closely.

Legal Business

Calling in the regulator: Willkie Farr investigation prompts client to report itself to the SFO


A report delivered by Willkie Farr & Gallagher into expenses payments at struggling oil explorer Afren has led the client to notify itself to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over the findings.

Afren said in a statement that it had notified the regulator of the investigation into ‘the hire of an individual within its operations in 2012 and the payment of certain travel and accommodation expenses connected to Afren’s activities’.

In a statement today (23 March), the SFO said it was ‘aware of the matters referred to it’.

The investigations team at Willkie Farr, which was led by its London head of litigation, compliance and white-collar crime Peter Burrell, conducted the independent review carried out by the firm after a whistleblower reported to Afren’s management.

The firm’s original review into transactions at the firm resulted in the dismissal of chief executive and founder Osman Shahenshah and chief operating officer Shahid Ullah in October for gross misconduct. The investigation discovered that the pair were involved in Afren failing to comply with reporting obligations under listing rules and that they controlled a special purpose vehicle, which was used to pay bonuses.

At the start of 2015, Afren announced that the pair would pay a $17.1m settlement, plus $3m in legal costs, to exclude them from future litigation with the company. Two other directors have also been dismissed since Willkie were called in.

Afren said in a statement: ‘The company has taken steps to halt its previous practices in relation to such expenses payments. Willkie has been tasked with improving the company’s implementation of improved internal compliance procedures and as a result of whistleblower reports received by the company’s management, the company engaged the firm to assist it with its review of its compliance with such procedures. Willkie Farr has undertaken a substantial review of such matters, which is still ongoing but which is almost complete, save for some follow-up work in relation to these two issues.’

Legal Business

Clifford Chance takes corporate team from Willkie Farr two years after leaving Freshfields


Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance has made a private equity push in continental Europe with the hire of Willkie Farr & Gallagher partner Fabrice Cohen in Paris, who moves as part of a three-lawyer team.

Cohen specialises in private equity transactions, domestic and cross-border M&A and securities law. Europe’s largest commercial aircraft maker Airbus is a longstanding client, with Cohen having advised the group  on the creation of the new Airbus Defence and Space division, which grouped Astrium Cassidian, and Airbus Military and Airbus Helicopters into one legal entity, in January.

General Motors is another major client of Cohen’s, who handled the US carmakers’ strategic alliance with France’s Peugeot Citroën, which included its acquisition of a 7% stake in the company. Counsel Gabriel Flandin and senior associate Basma Paradin also make the move, keeping intact a team that has been together since their days at rival Magic Circle firm Freshfields, where Cohen was the Paris head of corporate.

The latest move comes just two years after switching to Willkie Farr and Cohen becomes the third partner at Clifford Chance’s Paris office focusing on private equity. The team’s arrival brings the number of lawyers at Clifford Chance’s Paris office, headed by sports lawyer Yves Wehrli, up to 59 with Cohen becoming the tenth partner.  

Yves Wehrli, managing partner of Clifford Chance’s Paris office, said: ‘Fabrice will be a fantastic addition to our M&A group bringing a strong mix of private equity and general M&A expertise to our existing client offer. He is amongst the leading individuals in the market. The French economy is not that great so the busiest areas for us are those with international dimensions, which are likely to support the activity of the office, such as our finance and capital market practices, as well as cross-border M&A and international litigation.’

Cohen added: ‘I am convinced that the combination of our shared expertise in the French market, the synergies with our clients and Clifford Chance’s leading global M&A and private equity platforms will be a great success for the firm.’

Legal Business

Willkie Farr moves to build City private equity capability with hire of Kirkland duo


New York firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher has moved to build a City buyout practice with the hire of private equity duo Matthew Dean and Claire McDaid from Kirkland & Ellis, which also recently lost Dan Oates to O’Melveny and Myers and Ross Allardice to White & Case.

The arrival of Dean and McDaid takes Willkie Farr up to eight partners in London, where the firm already has corporate, white-collar criminal and civil litigation and tax practices, as it looks to grow its private equity and hedge fund offering across Europe.

Dean is primarily focused on fund formations, leveraged buyouts, financings and venture capital investments and has worked for a broad range of equity sponsors and their portfolio companies, including Bain Capital, Summit Partners, CapVest, MezzVest and HIG Capital.

He led Summit Partners’ acquisition of electronic trading firm Flow Traders in 2008 and HIG Capital’s acquisition of software provider FNZ Limited.

McDaid’s practice, meanwhile, focuses on cross-border private equity and investment transactions, including acquisitions, dispositions, financings and incentive arrangements.

Willkie Farr’s London managing partner Peter Burrell said of McDaid and Dean: ‘They broaden the scope of the international services we offer our multinational clients and will complement our insurance and restructuring practices in London and our private equity and hedge fund practices in continental Europe and New York.’

The pair’s arrival calls into question Willkie Farr’s alliance with Scottish firm Dickson Minto, which has worked on the UK end of private equity deals led by Willkie Farr, however, Thomas Cerabino, Willkie Farr’s co-chairman, said in a statement: ‘We value our relationship with Dickson Minto and expect to work closely with them in future.’

Kirkland lost London private equity partner Allardice – formerly at Dickson Minto – in October 2013 to White & Case and this year lost corporate partner Oates – the European contact for US-headquartered private equity house Francisco Partners – to O’Melveny and Myers, as US rivals seek to expand their City private equity capabilities.

Legal Business

Rival firms benefit from imminent Dewey collapse in City

With troubled US firm Dewey & LeBoeuf on the brink of collapse, a number of firms have already stepped in to boost their City offerings by providing homes to small groups of partners. Twenty-four of the firm’s 33 London partners had plans to leave the firm at press time.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius has emerged as the most acquisitive firm in London, taking six former Dewey partners in the capital, including its former London managing partner Peter Sharp.