Herbert Smith Freehills has long been regarded as one of London’s leading litigation firms – and ferocious litigators at that. However, in the 1990s it made efforts to be seen as more than that, electing a series of senior partners from its corporate practice including Edward Walker-Arnott, a City grandee well known for transactional work, and then Richard Bond. On the corporate side the firm handled a lot of the big demutualisations of huge building societies and worked on the Time Warner deal alongside Cravath, with which it had a referral relationship.
The litigators remain at the top of the tree today, however. Herbert Smith has a big practice acting for banks and has been very evident on the Libor cases and general financial crisis litigation.
The firm had a number of prominent female partners in the 1990s, notably corporate rainmaker Marian Pell and Margaret Mountford of Apprentice fame; however, that hasn’t really translated into a female partnership pipeline.
Herbert Smith launched in Hong Kong early but was very late to the table in Europe, apart from a small Paris office. An alliance with Germany’s Gleiss Lutz and Belgium’s Stibbe began in 2001 and for a long time they tried to brand the firms together – the business cards showed them together and the firms also persuaded the M&A tables to count all their deals together, but it was never close to a verein structure. The alliance came to an end in 2011 after the continental firms rejected Herbert Smith offer of a full merger. After that Herbert Smith pushed on in Europe with a series of raids on firms including Gleiss.
Clifford Chance is a powerhouse across the financial and corporate sphere with highly rated partners and a deep bench in almost all areas. One of the world’s pre-eminent law firms, the firm has a significant depth and range of resources across five continents.
Latham & Watkins stands out in the US legal market for its banking, M&A, private equity, debt capital markets, high-yield capital markets, equity capital markets, project finance and project development practices, making it another contender for the title of most versatile corporate firm in the US.