Ex-Herbert Smith Asia disputes head to join Linklaters as exits continue

Linklaters has made a key hire for its Hong Kong litigation team with the addition of Herbert Smith Freehills’ former Asia disputes head Gavin Lewis.

Lewis, who is top rated for China disputes and contentious regulatory work, is expected to join the magic circle firm’s Hong Kong base in November or December this year, bringing the total number of disputes partners in the office to to four.

Lewis joined legacy Herbert Smith in London in 1996, before moving to Hong Kong in 1998. He made partner in 2001 and from 2006 spent two years as a managing director at UBS in Hong Kong, before returning to Herbert Smith in 2008. He was appointed as head of the firm’s Asia dispute resolution practice in 2011.

The exit marks the latest in a string of senior departures from Herbert Smith Freehills’ global litigation practice, including Ted Greeno to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Kevin Lloyd to Debevoise & Plimpton in London, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer earlier this year sealed the hire of Hong Kong financial services regulatory partner Tim Mak.

Linklaters has also recruited two Herbert Smith Freehills partners over the past year, taking on contentious regulatory duo Martyn Hopper and Nikunj Kiri.

Despite the exits, the firm has stressed that the disputes practice remains strong, with global practice head Sonya Leydecker currently drawing up a new three-year strategy which is set to include plans for international growth. The firm’s new Asia disputes head will be announced in due course.

In statement, Herbert Smith Freehills said: “We’re grateful for Gavin’s contribution and wish him all the best for the future”.

Linklaters is among a growing number of international outfits looking to ramp up their Asian disputes practices as capital markets work remains slow and contentious regulatory work becomes increasingly profitable. The firm’s global litigation head, Marc Harvey, is also based in the Hong Kong office.

A number of US firms are also understood to be in the market for Hong Kong litigators, following Davis Polk & Wardwell’s hire of top-ranked Clifford Chance partners Martin Rogers and James Wadham last December. This March, Latham & Watkins recruited arbitration partner Ing Loong Yang from Sidley Austin.

However, recruiters say that a limited number of high-profile litigators is making it difficult for firms to find the right candidates. Competition for talent has also intensified due to the entry of US disputes specialists such as Quinn Emanuel, which entered the market in May with the hire of Kim & Chang senior arbitration lawyer John Rhie as its Hong Kong managing partner.

For more on HSF’s litigation practice, see HSF litigation leaders remain bullish as attention turns to post-merger strategy.