Paul Hastings’ hunt for labour boss mirrors City litigation growth drive

Litigation expansion in City and globally has become a ‘top priority’.

Phil Feder
Phil Feder

Paul Hastings is closing in on a replacement for the chair of its employment practice Christopher Walter, who left to join Covington & Burling last month.

Walter, who was originally a counsel at Covington before ­joining Paul Hastings, rejoined his old firm last month as a ­partner in its five-lawyer ­European employment team, along with special counsel Chris Bracebridge and associate Helena Laughrin.

London office managing ­partner Phil Feder said the firm is “actively interviewing” and has a series of final interviews ­scheduled for the next two weeks.

As an indication of the importance the firm is placing on filling the role, Erica Collins, one of Paul Hastings’ most senior employment partners, was in London until last Wednesday (5 November) to help with the interview process.

“We want someone who, ­primarily, can service our existing client work,” says Feder. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be someone with a big book of business, although that’s always welcome.”

Walter’s exit not only put a dent in Paul Hastings’ employment practice, but was also a blow to its ambitions of growing significantly its London litigation practice.

A major part of Walter’s practice, which focused on representing corporates on employment law issues such as redundancy ­programmes, was contentious.

Last month The Lawyer ­travelled to Washington DC to meet the global chair of the firm’s litigation group Jamie Wareham, who confirmed that growing the practice globally was a priority. As part of that plan the litigation capabilities in Paul Hastings are likely to require further ­investment.

Currently the office has two ­litigation partners, Michelle ­Duncan and Tom O’Riordan, although the latter’s primary focus is regulatory.

Duncan agreed with Wareham that growing the London office’s litigation capabilities was a “top priority” for the firm.

“For the size of group that we are I think we’re handling an ­enormous number of matters,” said Duncan. “We’ve got 20 contentious matters on the go at the moment, including litigation stemming from failed commercial mortgage-backed securities deals and other structured finance matters. That’s way up on last year.”

Globally, Paul Hastings’ ­litigation practice had 383 lawyers and 108 partners in the calender year 2009, a headcount that, along with employment, generated roughly 43 per cent of the firm’s global turnover.

Internationally the firm has been steadily building up its litigation headcount over the past ­couple of years, with big-name hires in the US and Asia in particular.

High-profile arrivals include a three-partner patent litigation team, featuring partner Jeff ­Randall, hired last year from ­Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in the US.

Other more recent big-name hires include Alan Brudner, who joined in New York from UBS, where he was head of litigation and investigations for the ­Amerias, and Palmina Fará, a Foreign ­Corrupt Practices Act specialist, who joined from the New York office of DLA Piper.

Last month (18 October) in The Lawyer’s annual round-up of the world’s leading litigation practices by revenue, Paul Hastings came 29th, with a total revenue of $328.3m (£205.3m).