Deacons sues White & Case over HK raid

White & Case's swoop on Hong Kong insolvency team scuppered by court action

White & Case has become embroiled in a court battle over an insolvency team that its Hong Kong office is trying to recruit from Deacons.
Deacons has filed a suit in the Hong Kong courts alleging that White & Case illegally approached four of its partners in breach of a non-recruitment clause in an agreement dating back to 1999, when the two firms were in merger talks.
The Lawyer has obtained a copy of a writ issued by Clifford Chance on behalf of Deacons in the Hong Kong High Court. Deacons is seeking an injunction restraining White & Case from employing a highly-rated team of four partners and one senior assistant. It also asks that White & Case be forced to give up any documentation containing confidential information on the Deacons lawyers.
As part of failed merger talks, the two firms entered into a standard confidentiality agreement. One clause prohibited White & Case from approaching Deacons' lawyers until 1 February next year, the writ states. However, a Deacons team subsequently agreed to join White & Case and last month handed in their resignations.
Star insolvency and restructuring partners Mark Fairburn and Edward Cairns are among those who are attempting to move. Litigator Robin Darton, corporate partner Jeremy Leifer and Tim Macdonald, a further member of the restructuring team, attempted to join them at White & Case. It is understood that the lawyers all continue to work at Deacons.
Deacons is known in the Hong Kong market as a particularly tough opponent before the courts. In Deacons v Bridge, the firm persuaded the court to uphold a five-year restrictive covenant against a former Deacons lawyer.
The Deacons restructuring team has an excellent – albeit not exclusive – relationship with Standard Chartered Bank. If White & Case, represented by Johnson Stokes & Master, can capture the lawyers, it will be a massive coup for the firm, providing it with an Asian insolvency and restructuring capability for the first time.
Johnson Stokes partner Nicholas Hunsworth said: “White & Case notes the issue of legal proceedings against them by Deacons with regret, as the firm hoped that the dispute could be settled amicably. White & Case has been advised that they have a strong defence to the action.”