A little more than three years after switching to the business side, Stephen Fraidin is bringing his decades of experience in private practice back to Big Law.

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft announced Monday that Fraidin, 78, has joined the firm as a corporate partner in New York.

“It was a three-year intermission, but I really love doing M&A and governance work for corporate boards,” said Fraidin, who last month stepped down as vice chairman at hedge fund giant Pershing Square Capital Management LP. Fraidin joked that he has now “dramatically increased the average age” of Cadwalader’s partnership.

Fraidin joined Pershing Square in January 2015 after serving as a senior M&A partner at Kirkland & Ellis in New York. Fraidin said he will continue to serve on the hedge fund’s advisory board, noting that Cadwalader “did fundamentally all” the M&A work for Pershing Square during his time there.

At Cadwalader, Fraidin reunites with former Kirkland partner Richard Brand, who joined Cadwalader in mid-2015 and now serves as co-chair of its corporate group. Brand and Fraidin worked closely together on Pershing Square’s hard-fought battle for control of Dublin-based drug giant Allergan plc, as noted in a 2015 feature story by The American Lawyer.

Fraidin said that his personal relationship with Brand, whom he mentored at Kirkland, helped drive his move to Cadwalader. Fraidin did not utilize the services of a legal recruiter in deciding to return to private practice, where he previously spent 38 years at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson before jumping in 2003 to Kirkland, where he would spent the next dozen years before joining Pershing Square.

During his time at the massive hedge fund, Fraidin had a hybrid role as vice chairman that saw him straddle Pershing Square’s business and legal departments. Fraidin has long known Pershing Square’s founder, noted activist investor William Ackman, and said he never expected to return to private practice. But the opportunity to work again with Brand and build on Cadwalader’s platform was one he could not turn down.

Stephen Fraidin

“I’m an old guy, but I’ve got a lot of energy and expect to be a hard-working partner actively engaged in what I do best,” Fraidin said. “Life works in mysterious ways.”

Fraidin started Monday at Cadwalader and will soon be taking a European vacation, although like many top Wall Street deal lawyers, he will be available to clients as long as he has mobile phone service. Fraidin singled out Cadwalader managing partner Patrick Quinn for praise in helping steady the storied firm following the abrupt departure of former leader James Woolery in January 2015, a sudden move that came the same month that Fraidin joined Pershing Square.

Woolery, who left Cadwalader to start his own hedge fund, returned to Big Law himself last year when he joined King & Spalding as an M&A partner in New York. While Woolery’s time in the hedge fund world ended in late 2016, he did receive roughly $8 million a year in compensation during his short-lived tenure at Cadwalader, according to past reporting by The American Lawyer.

Under Quinn’s leadership, Cadwalader has sought to right-size its operations by trimming head count, shedding certain practice groups and closing offices in Asia and Houston. The American Lawyer reported in 2016 that Cadwalader had held merger talks with King & Spalding and a small, litigation-focused firm in New York, but Quinn reiterated in an interview Monday that the firm has no plans to merge.

“We are committed to being a standalone firm,” said Quinn, adding that Fraidin is the latest in a string of key lateral hires that Cadwalader has made in 2018.

The 373-lawyer firm, which saw its profits per partner rise last year amid a slight decline in gross revenue, recently recruited former Simpson Thacher & Bartlett counsel Mark Chorazak as a financial services regulatory partner in New York and added ex-Dentons global funds head Samantha Hutchinson as a partner in London. Earlier this year, Cadwalader brought back former M&A lawyer Christopher Cox, a one-time American Lawyer Dealmaker of the Year, and added ex-Arnold & Porter real estate finance expert Alan Lawrence to its partnership in New York.

Quinn said that Cadwalader is now focused on its corporate governance, M&A and private equity practices, as well as its involvement in the Shareholder-Director Exchange, a forum for dialogue between activist investors and corporate boards. Quinn said that as part of its full-service corporate practice, Cadwalader frequently advises both parties in various transactional matters.

As for Fraidin, who left Fried Frank in 2003 amid that firm’s ultimately unsuccessful tie-up talks with London-based legal giant Ashurst, the veteran deal lawyer remains a keen observer on how the business of law has changed within the past few decades.

“[General counsel] have become pretty sophisticated,” he said Monday. “The best legal work is now going to individual lawyers rather than law firms.”