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Herbert Smith is launching an assault on the City real estate market led by Berwin Leighton's head of property.
The firm is hiring David Taylor in a move that will stun the City property scene. Taylor declined to comment, but a Herbert Smith source says: "Yes, he's coming over. He's very entrepreneurial - he'll wake up all the sleepy lawyers."
Although Herbert Smith's property department acts for a number of institutional clients such as Standard Life, Hammerson and Greycoat, it has had little visibility in property circles. Taylor's arrival looks set to change all that; at Berwin Leighton he has helped build the property department into one of the best domestic real estate practices in the UK.
Taylor's clients at Berwin Leighton have included Prudential, British Land, BG and Akeler, and he acted on the retail property project Blythe Valley earlier this year. But there is no suggestion that Taylor is taking any of these clients to Herbert Smith.
At 22 partners, Berwin Leighton has one of the largest property departments in the City, with a strong base in the UK domestic market, and a strong niche in urban regeneration. It handled Ferensway in Hull for London & Amsterdam Properties and recently won the Elephant & Castle project, acting for consortium Southwark Land Regeneration, comprising Geoffrey Bradman's European Land and Frogmore Estates.
The property department, including planning and construction - accounts for 37 per cent of Berwin Leighton's total revenue.
Herbert Smith's move underlines the growing importance of property to City firms, particularly those with European ambitions. While Lovells and Clifford Chance in particular have focused on delivering a European real estate practice, Herbert Smith's property business has remained essentially domestic.
But its recent tie-up with major German firm Gleiss Lutz Hootz Hirsch Rechtsanwälte signals a renewed zeal to capitalise on this sector.
Taylor's defection is the latest in a series of upward movements in the legal property sector. Last year, Lovells hired DJ Freeman partner Andrew Sanders, whose main client was Argent, and Nick Cheffings and Dion Panambalana from Nabarro Nathanson.
Last week, Clifford Chance hired three partners for its property department. Jon-athan Solomon arrived from Norton Rose, where he worked on the Spitalfields development, while Robert Porter and Arthur Dyson were lured from CMS Cameron McKenna.