HSF Singapore partner exits pile up as South-East Asia disputes chief quits

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) South-East Asia litigation chief Maurice Burke has become the latest partner to quit the firm after being poached by Hogan Lovells.

The departure leaves HSF with 12 partners in Singapore, following a string of exits in the jurisdiction. The office will now be home to just one litigation partner in Singapore, Alastair Henderson. Singapore is the only jurisdiction where both legacy firms had an office prior to the 2012 merger (3 October 2012).

Burke, who was made partner with legacy Herbert Smith in 2001, will join the Hogan Lovells’ Singapore base in May.

The majority of the HSF exits stemmed from the legacy Freehills team, after 18 lawyers and three partners were moved to the legacy Herbies Singapore base following the merger.

Since then, two partners and nine associates of the original Freehills’ team have quit, including former Freehills Singapore managing partner John Dick (21 November 2013).

HSF has also seen a number of legacy Herbert Smith leave the base. In November 2012, energy partner Michelle Chen left to join Jones Day (12 October 2012), while dispute resolution lawyers Rob Palmer and Chris Bailey both joined Ashurst as partners (7 January 2013). More recently, energy lawyer Charles Ball, who has spent considerable time in Indonesia, left the firm for Reed Smith’s Singapore office (7 October 2013).

A source close to legacy Herbert Smith has previously claimed the friction was caused by the difference in the two teams’ billable revenues. “Herbert Smith’s partners generally view the Freehills team as a second-rate practice which doesn’t make enough money,” the source alleged. 

Sources close to the firm have also pin pointed cultural differences and disparity in revenues and remuneration systems as the main reasons for the discord. It is understood that the firm is “rejigging” in Singapore with the possibility of relocating a number of lawyers and staff members to other offices.

It is not clear if any associates are moving to Hogan Lovells with Burke. Commenting on his his arrival, litigation co-heads Stephen Immelt and Michael Davison said Singapore was now a “hub for resolving disputes” in South East Asia.

Read more about the base in Stalemate in Singapore.