Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft made a spectacular raid on the New York office of Latham & Watkins last week (6 February), snaring the latter’s global head of private equity Ronald Hopkinson.
For Cadwalader it marks the start of an all-out assault on the private equity market. Hopkinson told The Lawyer that his arrival was the first step on what he hoped would be “a very significant commitment to this area”.
Hopkinson added that, as Cadwalader’s new head of private equity, it was his role to grow the group with a focus on quality rather than volume.
“We’ll absolutely be looking to beef up the group with very high-quality partners,” Hopkinson said. “I wouldn’t be doing this unless I was convinced [Cadwalader] was committed to building a top private equity practice.”
One M&A partner at a rival firm described Hopkinson’s move as astonishing, adding: “You could not overplay its significance.”
Hopkinson’s private equity group clients include Carlyle Group, Blackstone Group and Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe. Other clients include Harrah’s Entertainment, which he recently advised in connection with its $27.8bn (£14.18bn) sale to Apollo and Texas Pacific Group.
A Latham lifer until now, Hopkinson made partner in 1996 and has played a significant role in some of the largest leveraged buyouts and private equity deals in the market. His departure will be seen as a significant blow to Latham.
Hopkinson said Cadwalader’s financial institutions practice and expertise in sectors such as healthcare would provide a platform to grow the private equity practice. In particular, he said private equity groups which were focusing on restructuring and pre-bankruptcy techniques as an acquisition strategy would be good sources of deals in the current climate.
Sullivan & Cromwell partner Frank Aquila agreed that a top-tier private equity hire at this point in the cycle could make sense. “While private equity deal levels are certainly down at the moment, clearly many private equity groups have built tremendous amounts of capital over the past 12-24 months that have yet to be deployed,” he said.