Trends in the partner hiring market come in waves. It was transactional private equity moves in the late 2000s. At one point it was litigators and, more recently, fund formation lawyers. Now, arbitration partners are on the move.
The highest profile recent moves saw SJ Berwin’s Justin Michaelson leave for Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, which had been seeking a City arbitration hire for months and had long been linked with an arbitration head at a top UK firm. Michaelson is set to leave alongside fellow SJ Berwin disputes partner Tim Beale, who also has arbitration experience and is moving to Reed Smith, while Reed Smith’s own Shai Wade is joining Stephenson Harwood.
Gide Loyrette Nouel is also on trend, transferring Paris partner Rupert Reece to London to bulk up its City arbitration offering. Gide itself had been hit by the exit of London litigation and arbitration partner Nicholas Tse and a team to US firm Brown Rudnick earlier in the year.
Why the shift? Partly it is because the practice is appealing and exciting for lawyers, as well as being a good forum for parties who do not trust each others’ jurisdictions.
But the other reason is the stronger opportunity for fees. As one City disputes practice head commented: “There have been serious attempts to contain costs [in litigation]. That doesn’t happen in arbitration. There isn’t the same control mechanism. It’s not public - the cases are every bit as key, the sums just as large.”