The Leader Column

Senior restructuring assistants had better start polishing up their CVs. White & Case is the latest US firm to target the insolvency market by hiring Dan Hamilton from CMS Cameron McKenna. White & Case is following in the footsteps of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, which made its first foray into this market a few months ago when it plucked Patrick Corr from Pinsent Curtis Biddle.

Hamilton is a good catch for White & Case. He was an attractive prospect not least because Camerons tends to produce well-rounded lawyers who are at home in both formal insolvency situations and workouts. And the firm has consistently fielded one of the strongest teams in the market, well liked by both banks and accountants. So why the move? Of course, one can speculate whether Hamilton – regarded as a particularly able technician – felt increasingly in the shadow of rising star Stephen Foster; but the more obvious conclusion is that Hamilton was attracted by a firm that could handle the US end.

White & Case will be claiming to be able to service the European restructuring market. Realistically, it will need a few more lawyers in London, but it’s a claim that verges on the credible. Few firms – apart from the inevitable exceptions of Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance – have any sort of pan-European insolvency practice. DLA’s hook-up with Görg in Germany gives it access to the middle market, but not the big-ticket work. Dentons’ practice is almost entirely UK domestic. Meanwhile, White & Case Feddersen has a stellar German insolvency business. Ironically, the only other substantial firm in Germany with a restructuring practice is CMS Hasche Sigle, the ally of – you guessed it – Camerons.

Until recently there has been only a tiny number of US firms active in insolvency. Those that have made a name for themselves have focused on the bondholders, most famously Andrew Wilkinson at Cadwalader and James Roome at Bingham McCutcheon, the latter having been particularly busy on the Energis deal over the last few weeks. The giants of Chapter 11 have virtually ignored the European scene, presumably because it is only with difficulty that a debtor practice translates into a UK creditor-led practice. But don’t presume too much on US firms’ insularity. After all, Weil Gotshal recently hired Chris Mallon from Freshfields, while former Wilkinson protégé Lyndon Norley just moved from Cadwalader’s London office to Kirkland & Ellis. Are these the signs of something stirring?