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February 12, 2010 2:20 PM

Reeling from Latham Raid, White & Case Redeploys Key Partners

Posted by Richard Lloyd

Having seen 13 partners in New York, London, and across the Middle East defect to Latham & Watkins in the last two weeks, White & Case is busy trying to shore up its market position in those critical jurisdictions. One step the firm is taking: shifting key partners to its newly depleted offices.

The Latham move is among the more spectacular lateral raids of recent years and has raised serious questions about White & Case’s London finance practice, its position in the Middle East market, and its   relationships with such important clients as Deutsche Bank and Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company.

To help rebuild the London finance practice, New York-based global head of finance Eric Berg plans to spend half his time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the foreseeable future, while Jake Mincemoyer, another finance specialist who was made partner at the start of the year, has moved from New York to the U.K. capital. The goal of the redeployment: fill the hole that opened when four White & Case finance partners--including local banking practice cohead Chris Kandel--in London jumped to Latham.

Mincemoyer has handled a significant amount of work for Deutsche Bank--one of the key client relationships seen as under threat due not just to Kandel’s move to Latham, but also the 2008 departures of Maurice Allen and Mike Goetz (the pair originally left for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer but are now at Ropes & Gray).

Commenting on what impact the exit of the finance partners will have, Berg says: "I've been in London for the last two weeks, talking to clients and they’ve been supportive, they see the same kind of events happen in their own businesses. We've decided to move quickly and we're committed to rebuilding the practice," he added.

Elsewhere, Doug Peel has moved from Singapore to Abu Dhabi to head up the White & Case office there while energy partner Saul Daniel will temporarily relocate to Abu Dhabi from London. In Saudi Arabia Neal Grenley, executive partner of the firm’s New York office, is looking for a new local partner and New York partner Wendell Maddrey, head of the firm's oil and gas practice, is currently in Dhahran, the home base of  longstanding White & Case client Saudi Aramco.

Foreign firms can only operate in Saudi Arabia with a local operation, making it imperative to quickly find a new lawyer on the ground to make up for the loss of White & Case Saudi partner Mohammed Al-Sheikh to Latham. Corporate and securities partner Ken Ellis has also moved to Qatar in the Gulf.

Commenting on the departures and the steps the firm has taken in response, Philip Stopford, the head of project finance in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa says: "It's a hit, but in the short-term we've moved people and going forward our client base remains strong."

Moving someone of Maddrey’s seniority is a clear reflection of how important the firm thinks its relationship with Saudi Aramco is and how seriously it is threatened by the Latham hires, particularly that of Al-Sheikh (described by one former White & Case partner as "the jewel in the crown" of the exiting partners).

Although he declined to comment on specific clients, Stopford unsurprisingly downplayed how badly the departures could hurt White & Case's key client relationships. "Every indication we've received has reflected the support we have from our clients; our relationships are broader and deeper than individual partners," he says.

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