HSF sees bulk of legacy Freehills team walk out in Singapore

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has seen the majority of the legacy Freehills Singapore team exit the Singapore office a year after the firms merged, with former Freehills Singapore managing partner John Dick the latest to quit the office.

Singapore is the only jurisdiction where both legacy firms had an office. Following the October 2012 merger, Freehills’ Singapore team moved into legacy Herbert Smith’s offices in Singapore (3 October 2012). At the time, the Freehills office was home to around 18 lawyers, including three partners.

A year later and it is understood that of the original team to transfer to the Singapore office just one legacy Freehills partner and fewer than three associates remain at HSF.

Corporate partner John Dick, formerly the managing partner of the Freehills Singapore office, has left the firm to pursue new opportunities in the region.

His departure follows that of Geoffrey Grice, who joined legacy Freehills in Singapore in 2009 from the State Solicitor’s office of Western Australia, where he was deputy state solicitor. He is joining Duane Morris & Selvam in Singapore as a director, the equivilant of a partner-level position. Grice has over 20 years of experience working on major projects and cross-border transactions in Europe and Asia Pacific.

The two recent departures come after a flurry of legacy Freehills associate exits over the past year. For example, senior associate Nicolas Watts has joined K&L Gates as counsel and Simon Barrell has moved to Norton Rose Fulbright’s Shanghai office as a senior associate. In addition, special counsel Alex Grice has taken up a senior in-house role at BT’s Singapore office and senior associate Ben Robertson has become regional counsel for MasterCard covering Southeast Asia.

Real estate and funds-focused corporate partner Simon Taskunas is the only legacy Freehills partner remaining in HSF.

Herbert Smith Freehills confirmed the two partners departure and declined to comment further on the firm’s integration in Singapore. However, it is understood that the firm is “rejigging” in Singapore with the possibility of relocating a number of lawyers and staff members to other offices.

Sources close to the firm pin pointed cultural differences and disparity in revenues and remuneration systems as the main reasons for the discord.

A number of lawyers and partners from the legacy Herbert Smith side have also left the Singapore office since the merger. In November 2012, energy partner Michelle Chen left to join Jones Day (12 October 2012), while dispute resolution lawyers Rob Palmer and Chris Bailey both joined Ashurst as partners (7 January 2013). More recently, energy lawyer Charles Ball, who has spent considerable time in Indonesia, left the firm for Reed Smith’s Singapore office (7 October 2013).

HSF’s managing partner for South East Asia Michael Walter, although declining to comment on individual moves, insisted that “the integration in Singapore has been going extremely well and the merger is working for both legacy firms”.