Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

A pair of recent hires by Willkie Farr & Gallagher is the latest sign of a hot market for private equity lawyers. 

Matthew Rizzo, based in New York, practiced at Sidley for almost seven years and led the firm’s private equity practice. In joining Willkie, he returns to the firm where he started his career. Partner Jessica Sheridan, who will work out of the firm’s Houston and New York offices, is also making the move from Sidley. 

“Our clients are quite active, and law firms are quite anxious to build out private equity expertise as result of that,” Rizzo said Tuesday. 

Rizzo’s practice focuses on the representation of middle-market private equity firms, and he said that it has grown well over the last five years. He said that while he had great regard for Sidley, he was thrilled to return to Willkie.

“Willkie is the place I grew up, and it’s a chance to return to a practice with a lot of good friends,” he said. “It’s one of the top firms in the market. They have scope and depth, particularly in New York, and one of the best brand names in the industry.”

Rizzo explained that success in the private equity space depends on strength in core M&A areas and strong supporting practices in finance, tax, benefits and intellectual property.

“We are delighted to have Matt rejoin his friends and colleagues at Willkie and to welcome Jessica to our private equity team,” Willkie chairman Steven Gartner said in a statement. “Matt’s achievements over the past few years have been most impressive and we look forward for him to continue to build his significant private equity practice back at Willkie.”

Willkie just represented private equity firm Warburg Pincus in its sale of technology-based procurement and facilities management solutions provider FacilitySource to the CBRE Group.

A representative from Sidley did not respond to a request for comment about the move.

A number of other private equity partners have been on the move in the last month, with two New York lawyers leaving Kirkland & Ellis to lead Covington & Burling’s PE practice and another team of four D.C. lawyers departing Kirkland for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.