Milbank grows up in the Smoke

And then, from nowhere, Milbank appeared. Well, not quite nowhere.

It’s been in the City for years, where it has taken a fits and starts approach to building critical mass from its project finance roots.

Culturally it still prefers to hide its light, but things are definitely changing. Six months ago ­Milbank invited in a bunch of London recruiters and sent out a simple message: we’re in expansion mode and we’re looking for lawyers in all areas.

2010 was its best year ever, with average profit up by 12 per cent to $2.5m (£1.55m) and total revenue up to $622m. It marked its stellar year with a hiring spree, much of it outside the US, where for several years it has been growing faster than in its domestic heartland. Put it this way: 50 cents out of every ­dollar Milbank made in 2010 has some non-US ­element. Five years ago it would have been 35 cents.

Today’s hire of high-yield and mezzanine finance specialist Tim Peterson from Fried Frank is the ­latest in a string of London hires. But corporate is still a problem: unlike Weil, Simpson or Sullivan, Milbank just can’t hack it on M&A in London.

But you can’t argue with its finance strategy. Last year Milbank made one of the highest-profile laterals when it swooped for Latham banking global co-chair Marc Hanrahan as part of a five-partner team.

That move boosted significantly Milbank’s ­leveraged finance practice. It also ramped up its ties with Goldman Sachs, a relationship that was aided last year with the hire of Weil securities partner Peter Schwartz and which today just got stronger with the arrival of Peterson. (It was also one that needed some attention after the exit of finance ­partner Kevin Muzilla to Allen & Overy in 2009.)

What’s the bigger picture here? At the firm’s recent global partners’ conference, chairman Mel Immergut’s mantra – oft-repeated – was: “Where will Milbank be in five, 10 and 15 years’ time?”
Don’t expect its current trajectory to continue throughout the course of the next five to 15 years. Milbank’s never going to be White & Case.

But the moves it’s been making – add in picking up Shearman Brazil head Andrew Jánszky to open in São Paulo last year – show a firm putting in place the building blocks for the future, short and long term. “About time too,” some would say.;