Ashurst partner departures continue to mount with exits in London, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi

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Ashurst has seen the departure of four more partners, including London banking heavyweight Nigel Ward and former Hong Kong managing partner Lina Lee.

Ward, the firm’s former head of banking and capital markets, is leaving to join Paul Hastings, two weeks after the US firm picked up a trio of finance partners from Ashurst.

He has been an Ashurst partner since 1992 and has taken roles on major deals including advising Lehman Brothers in 2006 as lenders to an agreement to invest in Firth Rixson alongside the Carlyle Group, as well as the £2bn sale of Abbey’s train leasing arm Porterbrook to a Deutsche Bank-led consortium in 2008. He also advised on the £300m sale of Dr Martens to Permira in 2013, leading the firm’s team acting for the lending banks.

His move comes after news broke earlier this month that a three-partner finance team is moving to Paul Hastings, comprising Michael Smith, Diala Minott and Cameron Saylor.

Paul Hastings London chair Ronan O’Sullivan commented: “We are one of the few integrated international teams able to advise on English law loans, New York law loans and New York law high yield bonds at the highest level. Nigel is one of the most respected lawyers in the London market and his arrival adds to our strength on both sides of the Atlantic.”

An Ashurst spokesperson said: “We have one of the most longstanding leveraged and acquisition finance teams in the City and our rising stars add to our acknowledged bench strength. We wish Nigel the best for the future.”

Ward’s exit is the latest in a slew of recent departures from Ashurst’s London office. Regulatory partner Nicola Higgs is joining Latham & Watkins, where she will be reunited with fellow regulatory partner Rob Moulton, who handed in his notice to join Latham in July, shortly after Latham also hired restructuring partner Simon Baskerville.

Meanwhile, in Asia, former Hong Kong managing partner Lina Lee is joining Allen & Overy (A&O) alongside fellow capital markets partner Jonathan Hsui.

Lee, who ran Ashurst’s Hong Kong branch for a year up until 29 July, joins the magic circle firm with Jonathan Hsui. Lee joined Ashurst as a partner in 2009 from Clifford Chance, where she was an associate, while Hsui joined the firm in 2011 as counsel from BNP Paribas and made partner two years later.

When they join the firm, A&O will have six partners in Hong Kong specialising in capital markets work. Both partners focus on equity listings on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and related rights issues and public M&A.

Lee and Hsui’s hires mark the latest efforts by A&O to bolster its equity capital markets and M&A practice in Hong Kong following several departures during the past two years. Last month, the firm announced that London partner Stephen Miller will relocate to Hong Kong in September to oversee the Asia debt capital markets practice. The firm also hired US-qualified debt capital markets partner Alex Tao in July from Davis Polk & Wardwell.

Ashurst’s Hong Kong office has seen several departures in recent weeks. In September, veteran restructuring partner Bertie Mehigan left for local boutique Howse Williams Bowers, while finance partner Doo-Soon Choi defected to Mayer Brown JSM in August.

Elsewhere, US firm Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle has hired Ashurst’s Abu Dhabi managing partner Alastair Holland. Holland, who joined the US firm’s Dubai office on 1 September, made partner at Ashurst in 2011.

Ashurst announced disappointing financial results for 2015-16, with revenue and profit per equity partner (PEP) both falling for the second year running. Turnover dropped by 10% to £505m, down from £561m the previous year, while PEP now stands at £603,000, 19% down from last year’s figure of £747,000.

The firm also opted to delay paying out the profit distribution due to partners last month as a result of the poor financial results. It had last delayed profit distributions in 2012.

Recently elected managing partner Paul Jenkins told Legal Week the same month that he wanted to draw a line under the previous year’s poor performance and turn the firm around.

Last month, the firm voted in changes to its partner remuneration structure, adding an extra 10 points to the top of the equity ladder and introducing a bonus pool.