A&O takes three-partner Paul Hastings finance team in New York as Stateside push continues

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Allen & Overy (A&O) has continued its US hiring spree with the recruitment of a three-partner finance and securities team from Paul Hastings in New York, including former leveraged finance head Bill Schwitter.

Schwitter, who also previously chaired the US firm’s corporate department, will join A&O alongside finance and high yield specialist Michael Chernick and capital markets partner Jeffrey Pellegrino. The hires mean A&O now has 12 leveraged finance and high yield partners in New York.

“Our ability to hire these partners in such a fiercely competitive market shows the increasing attractiveness of our US platform,” said A&O senior partner Wim Dejonghe.

Like the rest of the leading UK law firms, A&O has been struggling to impose itself across the Atlantic. Having launched in the US in 1982, A&O still only has 45 partners and around 120 associates based in its offices in New York and Washington DC.

Dejonghe admits that New York has been a particularly difficult market for the firm. “Building in New York has historically been a challenge for any firm that’s started from outside New York, including many global US firms,” he said. “It’s not dissimilar to the way that leading US firms have struggled to crack the European market.”

But the US market is now one of A&O’s “top priorities” globally and the firm is seeking to “aggressively” expand its presence, particularly in finance, litigation and M&A, Dejonghe added.

A&O has already ramped up its transatlantic investment, hiring 11 new partners in the past eight months alone.

Last summer, A&O significantly expanded its US-based finance practice with the hire of four partners from Proskauer Rose and White & Case, and an associate from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, who joined A&O as a partner. Speaking to Legal Week shortly after the hires, A&O’s global co-head of banking Philip Bowden described the move as a “game changer” for the firm’s finance practice.

Then, last month, A&O bolstered its US litigation and investigations practice by recruiting three partners from Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft and white-collar defence boutique Morvillo.

It has not all been one-way traffic, however. In November, Milbank hired three real estate partners from A&O’s New York office, including the magic circle firm’s former US practice head, Kevin O’Shea.

A&O broke its lockstep in order to bring in the four finance partners last summer, which included White & Case partner Scott Zemser, who now co-chairs the A&O’s leveraged finance practice globally.

An A&O spokesman declined to comment on whether any of the latest hires are also on super-point compensation packages, but said in a statement: “We are confident that our compensation system provides us with the flexibility and firepower we need in the marketplace. This group of appointments is indicative of the fact that we can compete with US firms financially.”

Schwitter, who will also spearhead the growth of a US sponsor-side practice at A&O, said the Paul Hastings team was attracted to A&O’s international network, which comprises 44 offices in 31 countries. (Paul Hastings has 21 offices in 11 countries.)

“Our clients have increasingly global aspirations,” he said. “It’s not to denigrate Paul Hastings to say that there’s no comparison. Paul Hastings is global, but there are few firms that can even hold a candle to A&O’s network.”

Dejonghe said A&O’s long-term goal is to be recognised as having a leading presence in the US across all of the firm’s key practice areas. “The US is vital to our success as a global firm,” he said.