Hunton reaffirms commitment to London in wake of partner exits

Hunton & Williams’ UK managing partner has said the firm remains committed to growth in London, despite the small City office seeing three partners depart in a matter of weeks.

Bridget Treacy
Bridget Treacy

At the start of May energy partners Matthew Williams and John Deacon left the firm to join Hogan Lovells’ infrastructure and project finance practice. Separately corporate partner Paul Tetlow has also left the firm, for K&L Gates.

The departures coincide with the ending of Hunton’s financial year which, unusually for a US firm, is in April. Total revenue at Hunton fell to $600m while average profit per equity partner (PEP) stood at $815,000.

According to one former Hunton lawyer the exit of three partners in such a short period raises questions about the appetite for growth in the US firm’s City outpost.

“I remember when I started they had a plan to double in size and be around the 60 to 70-lawyer mark by now, but unfortunately it became very obvious to me and others that the downturn meant that very few partners at the US end wanted to invest in the London office,” the lawyer said. 

Bridget Treacy, the managing partner of Hunton’s nine-partner London office, dismissed these comments, claiming that the firm had UK growth firmly in its sights.

“London’s incredibly important,” Treacy insisted. “We’ll invest in London and there’s no question that the US is fully supportive.”

Treacy, however, admitted that there had been a shift of strategy at Hunton in recent months, which she claimed explained the partner exits.

“Our strategy for London has refocused over the winter,” Treacy said. “It had drifted a bit from our overall strategy, which is to focus on international practice areas. We’re now re-aligning our strategy more along international lines.”

Despite the departure of energy partners Williams and Deacon, Treacy said the firm remained committed to growing its practices in that sector in London and across its platform.

“Energy and infrastructure is certainly part of [our new strategy],” Treacy added. “The hire of [Paul Hastings partner] Jonathan Simpson and his team, plus the other partners coming out of Paul Hastings, is part of that. That’s indicative of where the practice is going and you’ll continue to see that growing.”

Hogan Lovells’ newest partners pointed to Hunton’s lack of a continental Europe office network and a minimal English-law presence in London as among the reasons for leaving the US firm.

“The single most important fact is that Hunton’s story has changed,” said Williams. “When I joined six years ago the two stated aims were to grow London into a full-service English law office and there was talk of expanding into Europe. But some firms have taken different approaches to dealing with the downturn and Hunton has fallen back on some of its areas of key strengths, such as US litigation.”

Williams added that he and Deacon, “could have sought to realign” their practices but as they were primarily UK and western Europe based, the much larger domestic coverage at Hogan Lovells coupled with its greater international platform had proved particularly attractive.

“From an energy point of view the firm’s hires in Houston of Dave Locascio and José Luis Vittor from McDermott [Will & Emery] was also a big factor in our decision to come,” Williams said, referring to the February 2011 hire of McDermott’s project development, finance and infrastructure practice co-chair (Locascio) and the former president of the board of the Instituto Argentino del Petroleo y del Gas, Houston (Vittor).

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