Cleary throws caution to the wind with City push

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is in growth mode in London.

While the City muddles its way through the ­downturn, the US firm is confident about the future and has high hopes for ­London, particularly in the dispute resolution ­practice.

Relocating New York partner Jon Blackman to the London office to build up the litigation practice at the beginning of 2009 marked a new focus in ­London.

Blackman’s move brought the total number of partners in the London disputes team to four. The other three partners are David Sabel, Shaun Goodman and Romano Subiotto QC.

Five months since ­crossing the Atlantic, ­Blackman has settled in and is now planning to bulk up ­disputes.

As well as growing ­organically, Cleary wants to recruit laterally to create a team that mirrors the firm’s practices elsewhere in the network.

Blackman’s move was sparked mainly by the ­significant litigation and arbitration presences Cleary has created in New York and Paris.

Last week Blackman laid out the rationale behind Cleary’s latest strategic move.

“Our litigation partners advise on international cases regularly and partners in our New York and Paris offices often found ­themselves ­travelling to London to meet client demand,” says Blackman. “It makes sense to have a more substantial team on the ground rather than rely on partners from the ­network.”

Cleary is well known in the industry for its cautious approach to growth, rarely making lateral hires or launching offices.

But taking steps to build a larger litigation team in London by a combination of lateral hiring and organic growth has the potential to transform the London office.

Cleary is not alone among US firms to spot this ­opportunity. Earlier this year (20 April), TheLawyer. com reported that Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy was looking to kick-start its commercial ­litigation ­practice in London by hiring DLA Piper partner Julian Stait to ­handle technology disputes.

The arrival of the former head of DLA Piper’s ­technology, media and ­communications group took the number of partners at ­Milbank’s London office up to 13, and more disputes hires are expected ­imminently.

Many US firm have ­thriving litigation practices at home. Now it seems they are dedicated to transporting these around the world.