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February 27, 2009 2:17 PM

LETTER FROM LONDON: Quinn Emanuel Hits the London Streets

Posted by Richard Lloyd

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges certainly is doing its best to join the fabric of London legal society. Its office is right across from The Old Bailey, England's highest criminal court, and just a few blocks east of the Royal Courts of Justice. Since the California-based firm formally launched a London office in October, a three-partner team has been busy building referral relationships with the city’s leading English and American firms, and repeating the mantra that, as litigation specialists, Quinn lawyers are not interested in mining the opposition's client base.

Much of the firm's U.S. strategy is being exported to London, and for good reason--in 2008, Quinn Emanuel’s 400 litigators pulled in revenues of $441.9 million and profits per equity partner of $3.3 million.

An eclectic trio is leading the U.K. charge: 41-year old restructuring and commercial litigation partner Richard East, 20-year Munger Tolles & Olson veteran Marc Becker, and Sue Prevezer QC, an experienced former barrister who joined from Bingham McCutchen. The office will soon number seven attorneys, with the goal, ultimately, to reach around 25 lawyers.

Though up and running for just four months, East and Becker are quick to point to a number of successes. Referrals have come from Magic Circle firms Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, they say. "In many ways the relationships with other firms are as important as our client relationships," East says.

The engagements include a role as conflicts counsel to the official creditors committee on the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy as well as work on the U.K. end of HSH Nordbank's claim against UBS over the former's credit crunch-related losses. After an unsuccessful motion to have the case heard in London, UBS is trying again--the matter will go before the Court of Appeal in April. (Some of the firm's U.S. lawyers also are advising HSH Nordbank.)   

A willingness to take cases against banks--another trait pioneered in the U.S.--is an important part of the Quinn pitch. Historically, most major firms in the U.K. have been reluctant to take on litigation mandates against financial institutions. There is evidence that this stance is softening for some firms, but it's never going to be a crowded marketplace.

Not everyone is buying the Quinn sell just yet. "For the cases they've made their name on in the U.S., I don't think they're ready for them over here," says one senior litigator at a U.S. firm in London, who spoke on condition of anonymity. East reacts to claims that the firm is still too small to run major pieces of litigation by insisting that "growth will be driven to a large extent by demand," and by pointing out that the firm can call on extra resources from the U.S. or barristers chambers as and when required.

Some have been quite receptive to Quinn's message. Ian Terry, a senior litigator at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, highlights Prevezer's experience in the market as a strong point for the office. "I don't feel our client relationships will be threatened by them," says Terry.

It was East's move from Kirkland & Ellis last April which heralded Quinn's arrival in London. Plucked from the clutches of Weil, Gotshal & Manges--he seemed destined to join Weil and form the nucleus of its restructuring practice in London--East's hire was a done deal after one meeting with senior Quinn partners.

The appeal, he now says, was in Quinn's fabled litigation focus, the growing reputation of the firm's bankruptcy team in New York (under former Milbank partner Susheel Kirpalani), and the opportunity to build something new. Prevezer joined shortly after East; she had spoken to the firm once before, tentatively, before she joined Bingham in 2006. Becker, meanwhile, landed in London largely for family reasons (his wife is originally from the U.K.) and adds experience in white-collar investigation work and the entertainment sector.

The U.S. firm is putting a lot of faith in this triumvirate. In its short 23-year history, the firm could never be accused of being expansionist. In a June 2006 feature in The American Lawyer, name and managing partner John Quinn told Susan Beck, "Every office you open is a chance for something to go wrong. It's like putting a witness on the stand."

To minimize risk, the firm has opened only in New York (in 2001) and most recently in London. Quinn Emanuel has a small client service outpost in Tokyo, but London is the firm's first true overseas office with local law capability. And, according to several London-based litigation partners, John Quinn, based in Los Angeles, has been a visible presence in helping to establish the practice.

"I think that John Quinn inspires a lot of confidence," reflects one senior London litigator at an American firm. "The fact that he's done what he's done in the U.S. means they have a good chance here."

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