‘London a priority’ – Davis Polk secures Paul Hastings finance co-head

Luke McDougall joins as Wall Street firm moves to build out UK leveraged finance bench

Luke McDougall Image courtesy of Davis Polk

Davis Polk has added a former co-chair of Paul Hastings’ global finance practice in London, marking a rare City lateral by the storied Wall Street firm which has signalled London investment as a “strategic priority”.

Luke McDougall has joined the 1,000-lawyer firm’s finance practice after nine years at Paul Hastings, having earlier been a partner at Ashurst. He focuses his practice on UK and cross-border leveraged finance, corporate finance and restructuring matters.

He will be just Davis Polk’s ninth partner in London, the Wall Street firm having started practising English law in 2012. Notably, recent months have seen US rival Paul Weiss leapfrog the office in terms of size with a headline-grabbing run of hires to launch a heavyweight English law private equity practice.

“I am thrilled to welcome Luke to Davis Polk,” said firm managing partner Neil Barr. “Investing in our platform in London, and in particular continuing to grow our leveraged finance capability there, is a strategic priority for our firm. A partner of Luke’s calibre delivers important bench strength, and he will be a tremendous asset to our bank, sponsor and direct lending clients.”

McDougall advises on the financing of acquisitions, leveraged buyouts and portfolio acquisitions, on general corporate financing and on the restructuring of leveraged groups.  

His client roster includes traditional bank and specialty lenders and he has advised Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and Blackrock. He was also part of the Paul Hastings team advising Goldman Sachs in Thoma Bravo’s $5.3bn acquisition of UK-based AI cybersecurity company Darktrace announced last week.

McDougall’s move to Davis Polk gives him the opportunity to help build an early-stage finance practice in London, having done that at Paul Hastings when he joined the firm nearly a decade ago.  

Nick Benham, who leads Davis Polk’s finance team in London, said: “I have known Luke for many years. He is a fantastic lawyer, and I am excited to partner with him as we deepen our UK leveraged finance capabilities.”

The firm has an elite finance team of more than 250 lawyers in the US but its London finance bench has just nine – a fraction, for example, of Paul Hastings’ nearly 70-strong City banking and finance practice. In 2020, however, Davis Polk abandoned its pure lockstep structure to aid its growth plans and McDougall’s hire promises a period of expansion in London.

Paul Hastings, meanwhile, has been notably active in the London market, having grown its lawyer headcount by 37% over the past 12 months to nearly 160, according to Pirical. Notable hires for the London finance practice over the past few years include a four-partner team from Latham & Watkins, which joined in 2022, and high-yield partners Patrick Bright and Alexander Horstmann-Caines, who joined from Weil in December 2022 and January 2023 respectively.

The team has, however, also seen departures recently, with Peter Schwartz, the firm’s former global head of high-yield capital markets, joining King & Spalding in February, a move that reunited him with former Paul Hastings leveraged finance trio Richard Kitchen, Amin Doulai and Alon Blitz. Also in February, Adrian Chiodo left to join Covington & Burling as head of European leverage finance. 

A Paul Hastings spokesperson said the firm had a record first quarter, up approximately 20% in value of time worked. The firm’s London office was a core driver, the spokesperson said, having a record Q1 FY25 with value of time worked up around 40% compared to the first quarter of last year, driven by a significant uptick in demand across finance, structured credit, private equity and M&A, infrastructure and restructuring.

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