Heller spearheads West Coast charge to London

West Coast giant Heller Ehrman is set to become the first in a wave of major US firms launching London offices when it opens in the capital in February.

The firm, San Francisco’s third-largest, with a revenue of $472m (£266.5m), has been planning its London launch for the past two years. It would ideally like to merge with a UK firm, but will transfer some of its leading partners while it looks at teams and individual lateral hires.

“I’m coming in February with some M&A folks, who are the major impetus behind launching in London,” confirmed new European chair Edward Hennebury, who joins from the Irish Competition Authority in February.

Hennebury and Paul Downs, the firm’s managing director for international development, are flying into London to complete negotiations on the new office.

“I’m fielding calls on a daily basis from real estate agents across the London boroughs,” said Downs. “Although we haven’t found our merger partner, we are putting things in place.”

Heller will compete with West Coast rivals Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Morrison & Foerster, O’Melveny & Myers and Orrick, which are all in the midst of aggressive recruitment drives in the UK capital. Cooley Godward is also exploring how best to launch in the city.

“We’re not going to London to reinvent ourselves. Our antitrust practice is very strong and that would naturally extend to Europe. Technology companies continue to be important on the West and East Coasts and will be a key driver of our growth in Europe as it has been in Asia,” said Downs.

Heller also plans to focus on cross-border securities litigation and real estate finance.

Downs’ corporate group was bolstered last week when it poached one of Dorsey & Whitney’s most senior corporate lawyers, Wesley Fredericks, who has joined Heller’s New York office.

Fredericks is described by the Dorsey website as “a leader among his colleagues”. He was Dorsey’s deputy managing partner until he resigned from the role two months ago. Fredericks has also played a crucial role in the development of Dorsey’s international operations.