Howrey banks on Brussels stars for City antitrust relaunch

Trevor Soames is a busy man. He heads Howrey’s EU competition practice, is co-managing partner of its Brussels office and has now just taken over the top job at the firm’s London office, albeit temporarily. Oh, and he has just broken his leg while paintballing with his son.

“Trevor will be hopping between Brussels and London – literally,” jokes London competition head Tom McQuail.

McQuail and Soames are both new faces in London, jetting in from the Continent with fellow Brussels partner Geert Goeteyn to launch Howrey’s antitrust practice in London.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says Soames. “Howrey has three practice groups, but the only antitrust practice we’ve had in Europe was in Brussels, where we decided to focus our resources and build our reputation.

“We’re realistic: we have a business plan and ambition that’s intended to develop a top-tier practice in London in a reasonable period of time. The shorter the better.”

This cavalry charge in antitrust forms part of an overall restructuring of the London office and a renewed attempt to get Howrey into the premier league for its three practice areas of litigation, IP and antitrust.

The past 12 months have been mixed for the office. Howrey London has lost IP partner Isabel Davies to CMS Cameron McKenna and this month dispute resolution partners Peter Fitzpatrick and George Maling moved to Nabarro.

But in the same year the firm has welcomed in Taylor Wessing biotech head Mark Hodgson, McQuail from Lovells and former Linklaters IP chief Jeremy Brown.

London was the first European office for Howrey, opening in 2002, but it has struggled to develop an identity and achieve a strong foothold in the London market.

The firm is a strange beast to begin with. Despite boasting a revenue of more than $450m (£220.22m), it only practises in three areas, giving it an almost boutique feel. Around $55m (£26.92m) of its revenue comes from Europe. The firm has big-name clients such as Proctor and Gamble and Coca-Cola, but has appeared on trademark-filing forms more often than court case lists in the past few years. Physical comfort has also proved elusive for Howrey, which is getting ready for its third office move in London since it opened.

In the US Howrey is on most of the big-ticket merger clearances and court battles going, but the same cannot be said for London thus far.

“Howrey’s been open in London for five years. The office has done well in sometimes difficult conditions, such as the downturn in the litigation market,” counters Soames.

While Howrey has attracted a range of big names, the key to its future success will be in melding its individuals into a focused partnership. Ex-partners have mentioned that some of Howrey’s past difficulties in London were down to frosty relations between partners and a lack of a collegiate atmosphere at the firm.

It has also been suggested that the old management triumvirate of former IP partner Davies, departing litigation partner Fitzpatrick and current litigation head James Irvine did not always reach a complete consensus on managerial decisions.

More than manpower, the new partners from Brussels will herald a change in leadership designed to bring everyone together. Soames will oversee a new-look management committee, featuring McQuail, litigation head Irvine, IP head Mark Hodgson and litigation partner John Evans.

While there are now more US firms than Starbucks outlets with plans to grow in the Square Mile, Howrey intends to differentiate itself with the level of autonomy it gives to the London partnership.

“Howrey in Europe is a very European construction,” says Soames. “It’s unlike a lot of US firms here, which are often populated by a large number of US lawyers parachuted in.

“Howrey Europe is built on European talent that has significant autonomy to develop and manage the business.”

The London management will only give progress updates to the Washington DC headquarters on a quarterly basis, leaving a lot of time and space for decision-making.

Soames’s mandate is to use that power to get the big-hitting partners to keep swinging in the same direction long after his stint in London ends.

And with more lateral hires expected in the near future, it is one challenge that Soames might find harder to crack than his leg.