‘A new apex predator in town’ - Paul Weiss continues to target London's top tier firms for talent

Linklaters among practices in firing line as impact of New York firm’s ongoing hiring spree ripples through market
Sunset at the City of London, England, with traffic light trails and illuminated skyscrapers

Sven Hansche; Shutterstock

The UK’s Magic Circle firms are well-accustomed to partner raids by US rivals in London.

Nevertheless, Linklaters’ loss of partners to two leading US firms on the same day last week stood out. 

The defections of M&A specialist Matthew Hearn to Paul Weiss and regulatory partner Sebastian Barling to Skadden on 10 April generated awkward headlines for Linklaters, continuing a recent run of losses on its home turf to US rivals.

Of wider significance, however, is that for the fourth time since last September it has fallen victim to a major new US competitor. 

Skadden has been periodically recruiting talent from the top UK firms for 30 years. Paul Weiss, on the other hand, has only just got going, thanks to its decision last year to ramp up its modest London presence. Until that point, the highly profitable Wall Street firm had long been characterised as a sleeping giant due to its lack of an English law practice. 

Since last summer, it has hired 21 partners from rival firms, 11 of whom hail from Kirkland & Ellis. Linklaters accounts for four of its hires while its Magic Circle rival Clifford Chance has lost three partners to the Wall Street firm (see table, below).

As Scott Gibson, a director of recruiters Edwards Gibson, observes: “Not only is there a new apex predator in town, seemingly able to snatch talent from peer, or near-peer, rivals on a whim, but the knock-on effect, as firms which have fallen prey to Paul Weiss’s unwanted attentions have themselves needed to re-stock, has been considerable.”

Paul Weiss officially announced its London push last September, confirming the hire of an eight-partner private equity team from Kirkland, led by new London office co-heads Neel Sachdev and Roger Johnson – both highly influential Kirkland figures – plus Linklaters corporate partner William Aitken-Davies.

Over the following months Sachdev and Johnson have overseen a further 12 partner hires from rivals with no signs of letting up. Last week’s addition of Hearn came hard on the heels of the signatures of antitrust specialists Richard Pepper and Ross Ferguson, who are joining from Macfarlanes and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett respectively, ahead of a planned office launch in Brussels.

The impact of the firm’s raids continue to ripple through the market, with Kirkland, for example, having recently snapped up two debt finance partners from Allen & Overy: Vanessa Xu, who joined last week, and Marwa Elborai, who joined in March.

It remains to be seen whether Paul Weiss makes further raids on Linklaters, which has already lost five partners this year in London, having shed a record 12 in 2023, according to research by Edwards Gibson. 

Scott Gibson puts the losses into perspective, pointing both to size of Linklaters' partnership and to some eye-catching hires it has made in recent months, including January’s unveiling of a six-strong team of M&A partners from Shearman & Sterling in New York.

“Unfortunately for Linklaters,” he says, “a good proportion of the Kirkland partners who defected to Paul Weiss were Linklaters alumni, which would have made targeting laterals from the Magic Circle firm so much easier for Paul Weiss.”

For now, Paul Weiss has sensibly focused on building a top-tier London private equity practice. But it is expected to use that platform to expand into other practice areas in due course. Similarly sized Wall Street peers Simpson Thacher and Weil both have around 50 partners in London, which seems like a sensible target.

Which means the roster of elite firms that fall victim to Paul Weiss’s ambitious expansion plans is only likely to grow. 

Source of Paul Weiss partner hires

Kirkland & Ellis11
Linklaters 4
Clifford Chance3
Ropes & Gray1
Simpson Thacher1

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