Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom’s hire of Simon Baxter from Clifford Chance last week represents the end of an 18-month search by the US firm.
As Skadden London head Bruce Buck said last week, this is “a unique opportunity” for the firm to bring on board one of Europe’s leading antitrust lawyers. It was also a chance to plug a number of gaps in Skadden’s European antitrust offering, not least one aimed at restoring its preferred age demographic.
Since the exit of the highly respected Henry Huser, who retired from the law two years ago, Skadden has lacked an antitrust partner in Brussels aged around 45-50. The 49-year-old Baxter fits this bill.
This is less a bout of ageism by the US firm and more a nod towards succession. Baxter, unofficially, has joined Skadden as the co-head of its Brussels office and is now leader-elect for when current European practice leader Jim Venit calls it a day.
Skadden is said to have also been hunting for a lawyer who could act as a bridge between the contentious and non-contentious aspects of its antitrust work.
“They’re trying to strengthen the part of the practice that handles follow-on damages cases in relation to cartel work,” reveals one partner at a rival firm. “These are not quite bet-the-house cases, but they’re usually worth hundreds of millions. Also, if you get into them you get very close to lots of people in the client company, and therefore you stand a better chance of being able to reverse-engineer into the non-contentious work.”
It is a neat strategy, underlined by the comment from this partner that Skadden was originally looking for a small team as opposed to just one lawyer, ideally with two big hitters to reinforce the contentious and non-contentious sides.
When asked, Venit - who sat on the opposite side of the table from Baxter a decade ago for Honeywell on its proposed merger with General Electric - says the rationale was actually far simpler. “It’s interesting to hear what people are saying about Simon’s hire, but first and foremost this was about finding a superb lawyer with wonderful client skills,” explains Venit. “I’ve worked with him a lot over the years, so I’m well aware of his qualities.”