Freshfields follows A&O lead with new US assault

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is the second magic circle firm this month to announce US lateral hires as it takes on two finance partners in its New York and Washington DC offices.

The move coincides with the announcement that Allen & Overy (A&O) in New York is taking on four partners to launch its US M&A practice (see page 9).
Structured finance partner Tim Little has joined Freshfields' New York office from Shearman & Sterling and project finance partner Mark Spivak will join the Washington office from Vinson & Elkins.
Little, who will become the third US-based structured finance partner at Freshfields, will focus on structured real estate finance, including synthetic and leveraged leasing and real estate securitisation.
Spivak, who was co-head of the project development and finance practice at Vinson & Elkins, is known for advising sponsors and developers.
Although Freshfields already has a strong US project finance practice which includes five partners, its focus is on the agencies, which the Spivak appointment will broaden.
Freshfields managing partner Ian Terry said the firm had been looking for a partner with Spivak's expertise for some time. “In New York our practice focuses on the agencies, such as the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, but we want to advise the sponsors as well and we have been looking for someone to do that in the Washington office,” he said.
A&O's hiring spree is a continuation of its strategy to launch an M&A practice. In April it hired M&A and derivatives partner Dan Cunningham from Cravath Swaine & Moore. Cunningham was the first partner to leave Cravath for a rival firm and his move to A&O gave the firm's new M&A department immediate credibility.
The announcement that four more partners are joining Cunningham puts A&O's US corporate capability ahead of its magic circle rivals.
Freshfields and Linklaters & Alliance are not particularly visible in US M&A and, although Clifford Chance has the ability to do a greater spread of product lines, the Rogers & Wells practice has not traditionally been high-end M&A work.
The US M&A market is extremely difficult to break into and both Freshfields' and Linklaters' strategy has been to focus on international finance.
However, A&O managing partner John Rinks said the deal profiles of a number of A&O's international clients require the firm to have US law capability.
“We are following the needs of the clients. We will not be a major competitor for domestic US business but we will provide a high level of competence for all areas of international transactions, which provide the core of our business,” he said.
However, he also said that the aim was not just to protect client business but also to develop new business. In this respect he will inevitably compete with US firms.
Freshfields' focus is on project finance, structured finance, securities and tax. But it is known within the market that it would like to expand its US M&A capability.
In 1998 Freshfields' New York office was just a representative office but that year five partners joined, including four from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy.
Then in May this year Claude Stansbury joined the Washington office from tax boutique Ivins Phillips & Baker. The two new laterals will bring the number of US partners to 17.