See you later, arbitrator

Top disputes partners are quitting all over the place for the quieter boutique life

Conflict is the wheel on the arbitration bus that goes round and round. But it’s also the problem driving heavy-hitting arbitration partners out of high-ranking firms and into boutiques.

Last month it emerged that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s London arbitration head Constantine Partasides was leaving to launch a boutique with former partner Jan Paulsson and Paris partner Georgios Petrochilos.

The stellar team is thought to have been swayed by a life without conflicts. They will set up the Washington DC, Paris and London-based boutique later this year with three partners from Covington & Burling, Jones Day and Shearman & Sterling. Then just last Friday (14 March), three German arbitration lawyers also left to set up alone.

The exits will be a shock to the system for Freshfields. However, its recent round of partner promotions show the firm is unwilling to give up on arbitration. In the past two years the firm has shunned its traditional preference for corporate and financial promotions in favour of more arbitrators and litigators, with a third of this year’s promotions coming from the dispute resolution team. 

But even as Freshfields rebuilds its arbitration and litigation capacity, others are leaving its rivals for a less conflict-ridden world.

In January Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF) big-hitting advocacy chief Murray Rosen QC left to return to the bar after launching the team in 2005 with Ian Gatt QC. The news followed the exits of former global arbitration co-head Charles Kaplan for Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and litigation head Ted Greeno for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in March.

Quinn Emanuel which, while large, is  a dispute resolution-only outfit, has been pretty successful at tempting arbitration partners from international and magic circle firms. For example, Allen & Overy global arbitration head Stephen Jagusch and partner Anthony Sinclair also arrived on the firm’s doorstep in May 2012. Jagusch – whose exit was a harsh blow for A&O – now heads Quinn Emanuel’s international arbitration practice from London.

The trend of litigators and arbitrators quitting international firms for boutiques is not confined to London, either. In Paris, Hogan Lovells and Mayer Brown have both seen partners leave to do their own thing – the former saying adieu to veteran arbitration partner Jean-Georges Betto a year ago, and the latter losing two partners in September for a boutique.

Conflict – who needs it? Not arbitration partners apparently.