HSF Australia partners heading to White & Case instruct lawyers for departure dispute

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The eight former Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) who left the firm last year to launch an Australia practice for White & Case have instructed Seyfarth Shaw to represent them in the case brought against them by their former firm, which could see them blocked from working until September.

Seyfarth employment partner Christopher Gardner is acting for the group, which consists of Melbourne partners Andrew Clark, Brendan Quinn, Alan Rosengarten, Josh Sgro, Tim Power, Jared Muller and Joanne Draper, as well as Sydney partner Joel Rennie.

The partners left HSF in September last year to launch offices in Melbourne and Sydney for the US firm.

According to his firm profile, Gardner specialises in workplace relations and advises employers on litigation matters. Seyfarth, which is based in Chicago, has international offices in Melbourne, Sydney, London and Shanghai, alongside its 10 domestic US bases.

HSF commercial litigation partner Michael Pryse is leading on the dispute for his firm, which claims that the departing partners breached seven clauses of the HSF partnership record and seven clauses of the global LLP members’ agreement. The firm is also seeking a court order to restrict the new White & Case partners from dealings with former clients.

The case was filed last week (10 February) before the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Sydney.

Hong Kong partner Fergus Smith and Singapore partner Matthew Osborne, who are also moving to White & Case, are not named as defendants in the suit. Former HSF Melbourne associates Adeline Pang and Ged Cochrane and special counsel Michelle Keen, all now partners at White & Case, are also not part of the suit.

The former associates have already started at White & Case, but HSF Australia partners are subject to a six-month notice period after they resign and a further six-month restraint period, which forbids them from practising at a competing firm as a partner.

It is understood a mediation meeting between the two parties has already taken place.

A White & Case spokesperson said: “Although we are not party to this litigation, we are hopeful for a speedy resolution.”

HSF declined to comment.