Akin’s spread of legal

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is targeting a London litigation launch later this year as part of a wider international push by the Texas firm.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is targeting a London litigation launch later this year as part of a wider international push by the Texas firm.

Earlier this year Akin posted some of the strongest financial results of any US firm. Average profit per equity partner (PEP) was up by more than 16 per cent to $1.4m (£950,000), while revenue rose by around 4 per cent to $780.5m.

Yet Akin has also just emerged from a financial year that saw a record number of partners, around 60, jump ship for rivals. The most recent high-profile example was former co-head of litigation Andrew Rossman, who joined Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges in New York last month. Although some of the exits were part of Akin’s efforts to reshape its practice, the firm has not been immune to the impact of the financial crisis.

Still, in an interview with The Lawyer late last month, Rick Burdick, the head of Akin’s international corporate transactions practice, argued the firm has been more shielded than most from the worst effects of the downturn.

“We have a slightly different portfolio from most other firms’,” says Burdick. “First we have a stronger corporate client base than many of the firms’ with financial institutions bases. Also, we have good countercyclical practices. Both litigation and financial restructuring, most prominently, have seen a pick-up.”

Apparently that uptick in work is being felt on both sides of the Atlantic by Akin. Rather than having financial institutions as core clients, Akin is better known for representing hedge funds, several of which are now turning their attention to investments in distressed assets.

“Everyone’s starting to get the feeling we’ve hit bottom,” says Burdick optimistically. “We’ll know in a few months’ time whether now was the tipping point. We’ll look back and say, ‘that was the bottom’.”

In the meantime Akin has not been dragging its feet, at least not in terms of its international growth. Last October the firm opened an office in Abu Dhabi, transferring New York partner Natasha Kohne as managing partner along with partners Lee Kolodny and Elisabeth Cappuyns from the Los Angeles and New York offices respectively (The Lawyer, 8 October 2008).

Now a disputes resolution capability in the City is in its sights.

“We’re pursuing some lateral opportunities,” reveals Burdick. “Currently we have no dispute resolution or international arbitration capability [in London], but it is a strategic objective.”

A London hire is expected to be unveiled within the next couple of months.

“Dispute resolution is extremely important for us, as our clients are seeing an increasing number of disputes as a result of the crisis,” reveals Burdick. “We’ve been servicing the litigation needs out of the US up until now, but the English court side is non-existent and international arbitration is limited. We think we need that capability on both sides.”

Meanwhile Akin is looking at making changes to other parts of its international network.

The Moscow office had a boost earlier this year when it added two partners, Alexey Kondratchik (who rejoined the firm from White & Case) and Andrei Danilov, who was promoted to partner, effective from 1 January.

The most recent addition to Akin’s Moscow office was announced today (4 May). The firm has brought in the deputy general counsel and chief international counsel at Alfa-Bank in Moscow, Matt Roazen, as
a partner in its international corporate transactions practice.

Along with his emphasis on corporate finance, M&A and private equity, Roazen also has significant experience in a wide variety of litigation and arbitration matters.

Akin’s Moscow office head Richard Wilkie said: “Matt’s a 15-year veteran of the Moscow legal market.”

Further east there are also changes planned in Akin’s China practice, specifically in Beijing, where later this year the firm’s eight-lawyer office will be in a process of transition between managing partners.

The partner in charge, Eliot Cutler, is set to return to the US in June after completing his China stint, with Washington DC partner Spencer Griffith heading out to Beijing to take up the reins.

So Akin’s international network appears to be in rude health. Closer to home, however, doubts about the harmony of the US end of the practice continue.

In particular, as The Lawyer reported last year (15 September 2008), Akin’s latest five-year plan put New York at the centre of the Texas-headquartered firm’s international strategy. Sources suggested that the centre of gravity was shifting from the south to the east – a line Burdick did not quash.

“The centre of gravity used to be Texas with a DC presence,” explains Burdick. “But now more than 50 per cent of our lawyers are on the Eastern Seaboard, with around 335 lawyers in Washington and 190 in New York. If you’re going to be an international firm, London and New York are critical places to be.”