As the US firm turns 40 in London, its strategy of expanding slowly is paying off
It was a big week for Bingham McCutchen’s London office last week, and not all of it centred on the glamorous bash at Spencer House the firm hosted on Thursday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its UK launch.
On Monday (3 June) The Lawyer reported that the US firm, known as a conservative lateral hirer, had snared Herbert Smith Freehills(HSF) funds partner Thiha Tun. Tun does not start until September, but his hire marks a milestone in the evolution of the City office as well as the international platform.
Bingham has confirmed that Tun will work with partner John Holton, who moved his international funds practice to London from Boston in 2011, and its investment management team in the US and Asia.
“Thiha’s arrival will bolster our ability to offer the combined US and UK funds and regulatory advice many European fund managers require,” said Bingham London managing partner James Roome.
Tun’s hire Tun is the latest in a growing number of moves by Bingham in London. The strategy has seen the firm slowly expand its narrow launchpad focus of buy-side financial institution restructurings, where it traditionally represents bondholders in complex matters.
While the firm has stayed true to that aim, in recent years it has added more capabilities. One of the key catalysts for London expansion came in 2005 when it hired former FSA heads of enforcement Peter Bibby and Helen Marshall to establish a UK financial regulatory group.
In June 2011, Bingham’s platform-broadening push kicked off in earnest when it took on former Simmons & Simmons managing partner and litigator Mark Dawkins augmenting its disputes capability.
Bingham’s contentious practice in the City prior to Dawkins’ arrival had taken the form of Natasha Harrison, a partner since 2004 (in 2007 Bingham hired Sue Prevezer QC from Essex Court Chambers to kick-start the litigation practice, but she joined Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in 2008).
Dawkins’ arrival took some of the pressure off Harrison – or, as Roome puts it, “helped slow her heart rate” – and added another string to the London office’s tightly strung bow.
“The litigation we work on often involves plaintiff claims by distressed investors who have made an investment based in part on the
belief they will be able to enforce their legal rights and protect their investment,” says Roome. “These cases may not come to litigation, but they need litigation analysis and advice in case they do.”
At the start of last year the firm underscored its love for the City when it elected four London lawyers (Neil Devaney, Michael Gustafson, Liz Osborne and Richard Hornshaw) to its partnership as part of a nine-lawyer global round of promotions. All four practise in financial restructuring and disputes.
Roome, however, says the firm is never likely to be a rampant hirer in London, unlike some US rivals.
“We’re an advisory practice, not primarily transactional,” he says. “It’s critical for us to give the right advice. But we don’t need to stock up. We can outsource work and we don’t have any back-room people. Everyone is talking to clients, from first-year associates to partners.”
That makes Bingham attractive, and the kind of firm that partners do not tend to leave.
“We’ve lost three partners since 2000,” says Roome – litigators Neil Micklethwaite (who quit in 2007 to launch boutique Gherson), Prevezer and banking partner Sarah Coucher, who joined DLA Piper in 2007. “We hate attrition,” he quips.
It is tempting to draw compar-sons with Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, another US firm in the City that has traditionally focused on financial restructuring. Roome even put in a short stint there in the 1990s. A comparison of the firms’ fates in London in the past few years makes compelling reading.
In contrast to Bingham, Cadwalader’s London office has only recently begun to rebuild (most recently with partners Holly Neavill and Louisa Watt from Latham & Watkins and Richards Kibbe & Orbe) after a torrid period capped by the walkout of seven partners to Paul Hastings in 2009. The firm dropped out of The Lawyer’s top 30 international firms in London (a table ranked by revenue) four years ago, its place taken by Bingham.
In contrast, Bingham’s financials reveal slow but steady growth in the City, although last year global revenues took a dip. Firmwide chairman Jay Zimmerman blamed it partly on the investment of about $20m (£13m) in a back-office shared services centre in Kentucky.
In the City, though, Bingham’s slow and steady plan is working.
Bingham’s London highlights
1973 Opens London office, primarily to serve the former Bank of Boston’s (now Bank of America) London branch
1987 Jay Zimmerman (from 1994, firmwide head) becomes London office managing partner
2000 Current London head James Roome joins from Cadwalader as first English partner
2003 Vance Chapman and Natasha Harrison join from Herbert Smith and Weil Gotshal respectively
2005 Peter Bibby and Helen Marshall, formerly with the FSA, join from DLA to establish the financial regulatory group
2006 Moves London office to current location, 41 Lothbury
2008 Icelandic banks financial crisis begins (Bingham’s role representing creditors continues)
2011 Mark Dawkins joins from Simmons & Simmons, where he was managing partner
2013 Thiha Tun joins from Herbert Smith Freehills