Berwin Leighton Paisner seals triple disputes hire including ex-Freshfields veteran

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has hired three new disputes partners across London and Singapore, following a review of the practice that sees the firm aiming to build up internationally.

The firm has strengthened its City practice with the hire of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s former Asia disputes head, Richard Chalk, and Vinson & Elkins arbitration partner George Burn, who will head up the international arbitration practice. Chalk retired from Freshfields in April 2016.

Meanwhile in Asia, BLP has hired Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF) Thailand head of dispute resolution Gavin Margetson. He has joined BLP’s Singapore office.

A key emphasis of BLP’s three-month practice review, which finished in May, was on driving international expansion.

BLP global head of litigation and corporate risk Nathan Willmott, who previously worked for Chalk as an associate at Freshfields, said: “The strategy review was an important milestone for us as a department. Further development of the department remains a key priority for the firm and we expect to announce further hires in the coming months.”

“We will continue to invest to further expand our contentious practices in Hong Kong, while back in the UK, a priority is to add to our corporate criminal defence capabilities.

He added that he wanted to broaden Hong Kong beyond its current focus on arbitration in the construction and infrastructure sectors.

“We want to develop these disputes capabilities into financial, energy and natural resources and other commercial disputes, covering both international arbitration and litigation. We are also looking to add expertise in Asia in white collar and regulatory investigations. Currently, our teams principally handle white collar and regulatory matters on a ‘fly-in’ basis but, given the high demand, it makes sense to develop our capabilities locally.”

BLP has 45 partners in its litigation and corporate risk practice, including the new hires. By region, it has 35 in the UK; two apiece in Hong Kong, Singapore and Moscow; one in Brussels and three in the United Arab Emirates.

Chalk, who joined the firm last week, spent 22 years at Freshfields, relocating to Hong Kong in 2004 to head the firm’s Asia disputes practice. He held that position until 2012 when he returned to the firm’s London office as a partner.

While at the firm he acted for the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) in 2007 in successful proceedings to enforce the terms of a billion-dollar settlement that the BIA had entered into with HRH Prince Jefri (the Sultan of Brunei’s youngest brother) on the misappropriation of funds from the BIA.

His hire marks the first time BLP has hired an ex-magic circle veteran since 2014 when it took on Linklaters investment management partner Nicola Hopkins. She had spent 15 years at the firm before retiring from the partnership in April 2013.

Previously, in 2012, the firm recruited former Allen & Overy M&A partner Alan Paul and ex-Linklaters partners David Barnes in M&A and Claire Watson in real estate in 2012. Neither Paul nor Barnes work with BLP any more.

Burn, meanwhile, spent just over four years at Vinson and will join at the end of September.  He previously worked for legacy Salans for six years up until in 2013. He specialises in disputes in oil and gas, mining and infrastructure, as well as real estate development, among other areas. He replaces Jonathan Sacher  as head of international arbitration. Sacher will remain at BLP as a partner and head of the firm’s global insurance sector.

In Asia, Margetson left HSF after nearly 20 years with the firm. He joined legacy Herbert Smith in 1999 as a trainee solicitor in London. He made partner at the firm in 2010, having relocated to Tokyo, Japan, six years earlier. In 2014, he took up the Thailand head of disputes role, splitting his time between Bangkok and Singapore, where he worked on arbitration matters. He will be joined in Singapore by contentious construction partner James Clarke, who has moved from London to Singapore to further strengthen BLP’s Asian arbitration practice.

His exit leaves HSF with one partner in Bangkok, office head Chinnawat Thongpakdee. HSF relocated disputes of counsel Emi Rowse to the office from Hong Kong last year and said it has no plans to close the Bangkok office. 

BLP’s three-month practice review was led by Tony Reiss of Sherwood Consulting, who has also worked with firms including Ashurst, Hogan Lovells and Linklaters.

The review, which was not focused on cutting headcount or withdrawing from certain areas of practice, began after BLP pulled out of intellectual property litigation earlier this year.