Partners on the move at Herbert Smith Freehills

Getting that queasy feeling, as it’s all action on the HSF partner roundabout

What is going on at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF)? In the past few weeks a number of partners have high-tailed it out of the firm. The most recent move came last week, when Bracewell & Giuliani named HSF finance partner Jason Fox as its London senior partner.

Signs are the high-profile exits have not yet ended, with rumours of another well-known litigation partner poised to move to a US firm.

What looks worse for HSF is that many of the exits are from two of its core groups, energy and litigation. Frankly, if you’re going to merge with an Australian firm it’s not a good idea to start shedding energy partners, while there has never been a better time to be a litigator.

Other losses include litigation partner Simon Bushell, the co-chair of HSF’s London corporate fraud and asset tracing practice as well as head of its crisis management practice, who left to join Latham & Watkins in London last month.

In January the firm’s financial services regulatory chief Martyn Hopper quit for Linklaters as did fellow regulatory partner Nikunj Kiri, while corporate partner Will Pearce resigned last November to join Davis Polk & Wardwell.

In the same week that the UK firm’s merger with Freehills was voted through former Tokyo managing partner Steve Lewis left to join Bingham. Long-serving Shanghai partner Simon Meng also quit that week.

But let’s be fair, there have been a few hires. Last month HSF launched in Germany with Ralf Thaeter, an M&A partner from former alliance chum Gleiss Lutz.

The firm also hired Slater & Gordon partner Rod Fletcher as co-head of the corporate crime and investigations team in London.

And last August HSF hired a six-partner group of litigators from Chadbourne & Parke ahead of its New York office launch.

That said, critics claim this move, along with the minuscule Germany launch and the Freehills merger itself, falls into the category of a knee-jerk reaction to the collapse of the firm’s alliance with Gleiss and Stibbe.

Maybe things aren’t all bad at HSF. It just looks that way.