Herbert Smith’s empire state of mind

Herbert Smith has taken a bite out of Chadbourne & Parke for its long-awaited launch in the Big Apple, hiring six litigation partners (see story).

The team, which includes Chadbourne’s head of litigation Thomas Riley, will join Herbert Smith in September. The team does a lot of work for British American Tobacco, which is also a Herbies client. A Herbert Smith partner said the firm hopes to capitalise on the synergies from that relationship but that the main reason the group was hired was for its general commercial litigation experience acting for international clients.

For legal market history anoraks, this isn’t the first time that a UK firm has launched in the US at the expense of Chadbourne & Parke. In 1998, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer opened an office in Washington after hiring a partner from the firm.

The New York launch is the second piece of internationalisation that Herbert Smith has engaged in this year. In June, partners voted in favour of a merger with Australia’s Freehills. Further launches in Germany, Korea and Sub-Saharan Africa are expected in the not-too-distant future, too.

These moves are all part of Project Blue Sky, Herbert Smith’s blueprint to become a global player, and marks a sea change from the stifling conservatism that historically pervaded the firm.

While there are plenty more challenges ahead for Herbert Smith and questions about whether the firm can ever catch up with the magic circle, getting the New York launch over the line is psychological landmark – the idea has always been a sore spot for the firm’s corporate department, which feared for its referral work.

And, as the old song goes – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.


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