The New Year is traditionally a busy time for lateral hiring, and nowhere has that competition been more intense in recent years than the New York private equity market.
That trend appears to be continuing in early 2019, as Latham & Watkins on Thursday announced it had hired Alexander Johnson, who was the leader of Hogan Lovells’ New York mergers and acquisitions practice. On Wednesday, Sidley Austin said it had brought on John Butler, who was previously a Davis Polk private equity partner in Manhattan. More big name-moves are likely to follow in the coming days.
The moves follow the end of a historically busy year for the buyout business. Private equity activity reached higher than $556 billion last year, its highest total in a decade and up nearly 4 percent from the money doled out the prior year, according to Mergermarket, which tracks M&A deals. The number of private equity buyouts—3,599—set a new record, as did the number of private equity exits.
That boom has served as a financial engine for a number of law firms including Latham, which perennially ranks as one of the busiest private equity practices.
“Latham & Watkins has had, and continues to have, a strong focus on building what we think is the premier M&A and private equity practice on a global basis,” Marc Jaffe, global chair of Latham’s corporate department, said in an interview with The American Lawyer. “To get there, we recognize we have to have the premier M&A and private equity practice in New York City, the single most important market for private equity globally.
He added: “Alex’s arrival, to me, marks an important milestone in these ambitions.”
As for Johnson, the Fordham University School of Law graduate joins a firm that last year crossed the $3 billion revenue barrier for the first time while it also saw profits per equity partner reach a new high of $3.25 million. Hogan Lovells last year brought in just over $2 billion last year while its profit per equity partner was $1.28 million.
“Latham’s premier M&A and private equity practices in New York and across the globe provide a breadth and level of service to clients that is unmatched,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am thrilled to join the formidable team at Latham and look forward to contributing to the continued growth and ongoing success of the firm in New York and globally.”
Johnson has advised on both public company deals and transactions led by private equity sponsors. He has handled a wide number of deals in the television and publishing industries. In the publishing business, he has represented News Corp., HarperCollins Publishers, Hearst Corp. and Conde Nast among others.
Johnson has represented 21st Century Fox in a number of transactions, including a nearly $1 billion acquisition of stations from broadcaster Sinclair; a $1.1 billion sale of stations to Oak Hill and various other deals such as a joint venture with the National Geographic Society, according to his former Hogan Lovells bio.
Jaffe said Johnson’s experience in the media, technology, health care and energy markets fits in with the industries Latham has focused on and Jaffe said he expects will continue to drive a busy 2019 for transaction work.
“We think deal activity will grow on a global basis and, in line with that, the competition for the very best lawyers in this space like Alex will remain tough,” Jaffe said. “We think that we provide a compelling story both to the talent we’re looking to attract and to our client base. The industry expertise; the global platform; the league table leadership; the experience; the deal list all play in our favor. I really like what we have built, but I’m way more excited about what we’re going to build.”