Cleary Gottlieb hires veteran antitrust litigator from WilmerHale to launch first California base

New York firm's launch in Palo Alto will be followed shortly by a second office launch in San Francisco

Cleary puts move down to 'shifting regulatory environment and evolving needs of businesses across sectors' Shutterstock

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has launched in California, hiring a top antitrust litigator from WilmerHale and relocating a crop of senior lawyers to spearhead its new Bay Area venture. 

Cleary’s first California office is located in Palo Alto, with plans to open a second physical location in San Francisco soon to complement the work of its new Silicon Valley outpost, the Wall Street firm announced on Wednesday. 

Led by Heather Nyong’o, who joins Cleary after nearly eight years at WilmerHale, the firm’s West Coast team will build on Cleary’s existing work with local leading tech companies, including longtime client Google, as well as with California-based private equity firms on transformative global antitrust, M&A, enforcement and capital markets matters. 

Cleary managing partner Michael Gerstenzang said “shifting regulatory environment and evolving needs of businesses across sectors” proved “compelling reasons” to provide firm clients with on-the-ground support in California, topped off by the firm’s existing ties to the Silicon Valley legal market. 

He added that the firm intends to build on the foundation laid out by Nyong’o and the relocated partners by recruiting more legal talent to bolster its new offices in the coming months. 

A trial lawyer by trade, Nyong’o brings with her nearly two decades of antitrust and white-collar experience, including seven years serving in the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice. She served as partner-in-charge of WilmerHale’s San Francisco office and led the DC-based firm’s West Coast antitrust and competition team prior to her departure for Cleary. 

“I’m thrilled to join Cleary’s global antitrust practice and to help our clients navigate their challenges in this increasingly complex and dynamic regulatory environment,” Nyong’o said. 

Two partners, M&A lawyer Benet O’Reilly and white collar expert Jen Kennedy Park, will relocate to the Bay Area from Cleary’s New York headquarters, while George Cary, the firm’s most senior US antitrust lawyer, will relocate from Washington DC alongside antitrust partner Brian Byrne, who also serves as a member of the firm’s executive committee. 

They will be supported by a team of six associates whose practices cover the same areas, as well as capital markets, corporate governance, privacy and intellectual property and tech transactions. 

“With M&A volumes at record levels and new and innovative deal structures being used to put capital to work, having our leading M&A and private equity teams on the ground provides our clients with seamless coverage for their complex needs,” O’Reilly said. 

Cleary’s foray into the Silicon Valley legal market comes just a few months after Manhattan rival Willkie Farr & Gallagher opened a third West Coast base in Los Angeles with a triple partner hire from Venable led by entertainment law and business transactions expert Alan Epstein. 

Willkie followed up with dozens more Venable hires a couple of weeks later, a move that brought its Los Angeles headcount to around 40 lawyers, including 10 partners, three counsel and 26 associates. 

Jenner & Block also opened its second California office in San Francisco in March, the same month that the UK's Allen & Overy (A&O) gained a West Coast presence with the launch of a Los Angeles office, a move that was followed up by offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto in August.

A&O's Magic Circle rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer launched in Silicon Valley last year with the hire of five partners from four US rivals including Latham & Watkins and Sidley Austin. 

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