Sweet Sixteen: Latham & Watkins

Star practices/people
Latham & Watkins, once happy to be known as a West Coast firm, is now one of the most ­significant firms in New York and, indeed, the world. There are still some on Wall Street who dispute this, but Latham, originally ­propelled by its strength in high-yield, has arrived.

Finance has long been the calling card and co-head of ­global banking Marc Hanrahan has been instrumental in driving the firm’s transatlantic growth in recent years. He moved over from Skadden four years ago, bringing his extensive client base (which includes Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs) with him. The fact that Latham is the law firm of choice for a major chunk of Goldman’s leveraged finance work says everything about its finance credentials.

In London, the high-yield practice emulates Latham’s ­practice in the US, although its lack of City visibility has not ­contributed to its transatlantic brand. But the firm’s finance résumé has helped propel it into the Sweet Sixteen.

High-yield star performer Kirk Davenport lists Goldman, Bear Stearns and UBS among his clients, while the firm’s overall growth is linked to that of its largest private equity client ­Carlyle. Other key private equity clients include Charterhouse, One Equity and BC ­Partners.

Latham is counting on its litigation group to sustain it through the ­downturn. Unfortunately, ­although weighty in numbers, the profile of the disputes group fails to match finance or ­corporate. And with minimal ­restructuring ­capabilities on board, Latham may find itself tested if the credit crunch ­continues to bite. Its swiftly ­assembled ­European offices have not shown stellar growth.

The global network now ­includes Latham’s three offices in the Middle East following the firm’s groundbreaking, simultaneous three-office launch in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar. Latham’s relationship with sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority was a motivating factor for the firm’s assault on the Middle Eastern market. Given that the emerging markets have fared better than the Western financial centres during the credit crunch, ­Latham is focusing its attention on the right area.

The verdict
Latham stands out among the Sweet Sixteen for its rare ­combination of law delivered ­locally but with New York ­standards. The unique culture this engenders gets it to the top of deals tables and secures it a place among the elite. More than any other firm in this group, Latham has taken a blank-page approach to making a global partnership coalesce. This year’s results prove it has paid off in spades.