How do you create a transatlantic litigation practice?
In Debevoise’s case, the answer seems to be this: replicate your US hiring strategy in London. In luring former attorney general Lord Goldsmith, Debevoise seems to be assuming that the American revolving door model of public service to private practice will work over here.
But that raises questions too. As Murray Rosen QC – now a partner at Herbert Smith – acknowledges on our backchat forum, it is still unusual here.
But the trend is growing. Think of Sir Christopher Bellamy, who left the Competition Appeal Tribunal for Linklaters. Or Sir Hugh Laddie, late of the High Court and now a consultant with IP boutique Rouse & Co. Or, less happily, Mr Justice Peter Smith’s talks with Addleshaw Goddard, revealed by The Lawyer earlier this year.
It may all be new-fangled stuff on this side of the pond, but Debevoise has had a steady diet of prominent laterals in New York who have served time in public office. Certainly, Debevoise’s standing as one of the go-to firms for investigations and regulatory work has been helped by litigation chair Mary Jo White’s personal reputation.
White, of course, was former US attorney for the southern district of New York. You suspect she would be ideally placed to coach Goldsmith through the culture shock of coming from public office to the rough and tumble of a partnership.
On a more venal note, the bar is abuzz with speculation on Goldsmith’s pay packet. In private practice, he earned over a million. In government, he earned £108,485. Now, in Debevoise’s press conference today, Goldsmith said that he would be earning “less than I did at the bar”. But of course, Goldsmith will not become a full equity partner at Debevoise yet. When he does, most lawyers are already assuming that a million will be nearer the mark.
One last thing. Given Goldsmith’s controversial role on that Iraq opinion, we thought we’d look up Debevoise’s record on party donations. And guess what? Debevoise is entirely apolitical, with no financial contributions recorded either to the Republicans or the Democrats. I imagine Goldsmith checked that out before signing. Or at least, I hope so.