Legal Business Blogs

Paul Hastings finance partner leaves for Davis Polk as London churn continues

While there is no shortage of fast-growing US firms in London, Paul Hastings is a notable standout, increasing London lawyer headcount by 68% over the past five years with a steady stream of eye-catching hires.

However, this rapid growth has also come with departures as the firm repositions itself in the City, and yesterday (2 May) it was announced that highly regarded former global finance co-head Luke McDougall is leaving to join Davis Polk.

McDougall, who is a Legal 500 leading individual for acquisition finance in London, had been at Paul Hastings since 2015 when he joined from Ashurst. His practice covers UK and cross-border leveraged finance, corporate finance and restructuring, and since 2022 has been working along a team of four finance partners who joined from Latham & Watkins.

As the latest Global London rankings highlight, Paul Hastings now sits just outside the top 15 in that group with 170 fee-earners in London, and this rise – coupled with its continued ability to pull off marquee hires such as the Latham team – has meant that it is a firm that always looks on the verge of a breakthrough to the very top table in London.

The firm, which was founded in Los Angeles in the 1950s and has been in London since 1997, recently posted global revenues of $1.8bn for 2023, with profit per equity partner up 10% to $5.4m, and the latest Global London figures underline the firm’s growth across other key metrics. Total fee-earners in the capital increased 13% to 170, while the number of London equity partners rose to 36, a near 30% increase on last-year’s figure of 28.

London partner hires during 2023

  • Jessamy Gallagher, energy and infrastructure, from Linklaters
  • Stuart Rowson, energy and infrastructure, from Linklaters
  • Alexander Horstmann-Caines, high yield, from Weil Gotshal
  • Helena Potts, restructuring, from Shearman & Sterling
  • Garreth Wong, international arbitration, from Shearman & Sterling
  • Samantha McGonigle, private equity, from Farview Equity Partners
  • Rehan Hanif, real estate, from Kirkland & Ellis
  • Zach Milloy, funds, from Kirkland & Ellis
  • Ruth Knox, ESG/funds, from Kirkland & Ellis

Among the most notable London hires in 2023 were the addition of energy and infrastructure duo Jessamy Gallagher and Stuart Rowson, the former co-heads of infrastructure at Linklaters, and those hires are already paying dividends, with the duo recently advising VINCI Airports on its £1.27bn acquisition of Edinburgh Airport.

The firm has, however, seen a degree of churn in recent years, with the 30% rise in London equity partners serving as something of a rebound following a 20% dip from 35 down to 28 the previous year. The most noteworthy departure in 2022 was unquestionably former London managing partner Ronan O’Sullivan, who had been expected to take over as firmwide chair, with his exit paving the way for New York finance partner Frank Lopez to take the top job.

Movement in and out has continued into 2024, with litigation duo Oliver Browne and Stuart Alford KC joining from Latham & Watkins and former KKR managing director William Needham coming in as co-chair of European restructuring, set against exits including McDougall and private equity partner Samantha McGonigle, who is heading back in-house after less than a year at the firm.

In a statement on McDougall, Paul Hastings said: “We wish Luke all the best. Paul Hastings had a record first quarter up approximately 20% in value of time worked. The firm’s London office was a core driver, having a record Q1 FY25 with value of time worked up approximately 40% as compared to the first quarter of last year, driven by a significant uptick in demand across finance, structured credit, private equity and M&A, infrastructure and restructuring. We look forward to continuing to build premier practices and take market share at the top of the market in London and more broadly.”

Lopez, who became the firm’s first new leader in over two decades after succeeding long-serving former chair Seth Zachary in late 2022, is on the record with his intentions to prioritise the continuous addition of ‘elite’ talent, both globally and in London.

‘Over the past few years, we have added elite talent across a wide variety of practices. We are continuing to build and enhance our practices and overall platform with premier talent, enabling us to compete for and win market share at the top of the market.’

London partner departures during 2023

  • Alex Leitch, disputes, to Stewarts
  • Sierra Taylor, finance, to Greenberg Traurig
  • Steven Bryan, corporate, to DLA Piper
  • Derwin Jenkinson, energy and infrastructure, to DLA Piper

One former partner characterises the firm’s recruitment as a push ‘to elevate its practice to become basically a Wall Street firm’ and while such lofty ambition is to be applauded, it follows that there will be questions about what this means for the culture in London.

Speaking to Legal Business, Lopez emphasises the firm’s careful approach to talent acquisition: ‘We are thoughtful and deliberate in the talent we are adding, focusing on lawyers and teams who are synergistic with our existing practices and clients and have the potential for exponential growth.’

This focus is acknowledged by sources close to the firm, with one ex-partner noting that while a centralisation of the recruitment process in New York has ‘caused some ripples’, the firm’s ongoing financial success will, for now, provide ‘enough glue to hold things together’.

This interplay between exponential growth and culture will always be a balancing act for expansive firms, and as another Paul Hastings alumnus notes: ‘They’ve been growing really aggressively in London – there’s a chance that it pays off and that they’re left with a really good mixture of teams, but the risk is that you’re bringing in a lot of different attitudes and perspectives.’

Paul Hastings London equity partner numbers: three-year view