What’s happening over at Davis Polk?

The elite New York firm seems to have gone on a wild lateral hiring rampage. Well, OK, it’s hired a partner in Beijing (see story). But for Davis Polk, even one lateral is a marquee event.

The man in question is Howard Zhang, the former head of O’Melveny & Myers’ Beijing office. And while he’s only one partner, his hire follows that of Chris Hockett in Palo Alto, who joined the firm from Bingham McCutchen earlier this year. That makes two. Is this a record?

According to Davis Polk managing partner John Ettinger, everybody should just calm down.

“I don’t think our strategy has really changed, we continue to view lateral partner hiring as a possibility, but generally it’s a fairly rare occurrence,” Ettinger says.

So is anything new? Well, Ettinger does admit to there having been some changes. Last year, the firm broke its own particular mould in France, hiring Georges Terrier and Christophe Perchet from Paris heavyweight, Jeantet and launching a local law capability in the process.

And as Ettinger adds, the firm now plans to expand its Beijing office. For Davis Polk, this is radical stuff. Most of that growth will be organic, admittedly. In Zhang’s case, on the other hand, when someone like that is available, Davis Polk is happy to pounce.

There are similarities with Zhang’s hire to those last year in Paris. Although he and the rest of the office will be practising US law, his arrival (along with the former Chinese diplomat’s extensive contacts book) is intended to help Davis Polk navigate the unfamiliar Chinese waters.

As an aside, OMM deserves credit for its unusually gracious comment on Zhang’s departure. Not every firm manages this.

Maybe it’s because Zhang appears to be genuinely well liked.

As one OMM insider put it, “Howard plays ping pong every week with us, and we still have a paddle for him”.

Sweet, but it might not be getting that much use from now on.

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