Legal recruiter sues Davis Polk for $1.4m over hire of CC HK partner duo

Davis Polk & Wardwell is being sued for $1.4m (£899,000) by a legal recruiter who claims he played a key role in the firm’s hire of top-ranked Hong Kong litigation partners Martin Rogers and James Wadham from Clifford Chance (CC).

Rogers – CC’s former Asia-Pacific litigation and dispute resolution head – and Wadham were hired by David Polk last December.

The recruiter, Alan Metz, argued in the New York State Supreme Court last week that he provided details about Rogers’ practice and his desire to leave the magic circle firm to join Davis Polk, but was excluded from negotiations by the Wall Street outfit so it could avoid paying recruitment fees.

New York based-Metz, who has appointed Paul Wexler from US firm Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard as counsel, specialises in placing lawyers in the Greater China region and has worked as a recruiter for 30 years.

“Metz performed services in good faith for DP [Davis Polk] by serving as the procuring cause in the firm’s hiring of Rogers and his team,” said the lawsuit.

“But for Metz’s providing DP with financial information about Rogers and his willingness to leave CC for DP, defendant would not have been able to consummate the employment of Rogers and his team.”

Metz claims to have first approached Rogers in June last year on behalf of another Wall Street firm who was looking for a litigator for its Hong Kong office.

According to the lawsuit, Rogers, who had worked in Hong Kong for 12 years, had said he was interested in the opportunity.

The suit claims that he and Wadham had later devised a “wish list” of eight firms they would like to work for, which included Davis Polk & Wardwell, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Debevoise & Plimpton, Sullivan & Cromwell, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Cravath Swaine & Moore.

Between June and September, according to the suit, Rogers described his practice to Metz as consistently profitable, up 10% on 2011, generating $4m (£2.5m) in partner profits, and immune to economic conditions. 

In June he reportedly said his personal billings with rates of HK$9500 (£770) per hour amounted to HK$75-$100m, (£6.4m-£7m), and that those of the practice were HK$200m (£17.3m). He told Metz he was looking for a firm which had close relationships with investment banks and that his core practice was regulatory investigations, the suit says.

Metz alleges that he approached Davis Polk’s Hong Kong office head William Barron in June and described Rogers, without disclosing his name, as the head of the largest and highest quality litigation and disputes resolution practice in Hong Kong.

Barron, the complaint states, replied that the firm was uninterested in a litigation team, no matter how good, but to contact him again in one to two years. Metz says he contacted Barron again in July and extended his efforts to pursue at least five of the wish list firms until October.

The suit claims that Davis Polk, without Metz’s knowledge, began secret negotiations with Rogers while Metz was promoting his candidacy to other firms, leading to the appointment of Rogers and his team at the firm in December.

“Upon information and belief, because of the small size of the HK legal community, it was obvious to Barron that Metz was referring to Rogers,” says the suit.

“When DP issued a press release announcing that Rogers and Wadham had agreed to join DP-HK… this was a stunning development to Metz who did not know that there had been any direct contact between DP and Rogers.”

Metz is suing the Wall Street firm for $1.4m (£899,000) in compensation, which has been calculated based upon written contracts negotiated between him and two of the Wall Street firms who were interested in hiring Rogers and his team at the time.

Davis Polk & Wardwell declined to comment.