Kirkland & Ellis Photo: Diego Radzinschi/ALM

Kirkland & Ellis has brought on former Willkie Farr & Gallagher insurance transactions specialist Rajab Abbassi as a partner in its New York office.

Abbassi comes to Kirkland after spending seven years at Willkie. He started his career at Dewey & LeBoeuf in 2004, leaving as that firm began to implode in March 2012.

“I’m grateful for my time at Willkie, but Kirkland offered me a unique opportunity to build a premier insurance transactional practice on a phenomenal platform with an extremely strong brand, and I am excited by this new challenge,” Abbassi said in an email. “Kirkland is also known as an extremely entrepreneurial and energetic firm, which is appealing to me.”

Abbassi’s practice focuses on corporate transactions in the insurance industry. Recent high-profile deals include representing Protective Life Corp. in its $1.2 billion acquisition of Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co.’s individual life insurance and annuity business and a $3.3 billion multiparty transaction that saw Protective Life acquire Liberty Mutual’s individual life and annuity business, as well as Aetna’s $1.45 billion sale of its U.S. group life and disability business to The Hartford.

Abbassi added that he hopes to continue some of his existing client relationships at Kirkland while growing his practice with new clients.

“Kirkland is a known leader in the transactional market and the chance to work across a unique and growing platform and enhance the business even further is very appealing,” he said.

Kirkland chairman Jeffrey Hammes called Abbassi one of the top young lawyers focused on insurance transactions, noting that it was an increasingly important and active sector for the firm’s clients.

“We are delighted to add Rajab to our team in New York. He brings outstanding knowledge and experience about the insurance industry and will build our capabilities in this sector for the benefit of both private equity and strategic M&A clients,” Jon Ballis, chairman-elect of Kirkland’s global management executive committee, said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Willkie said the firm wished Abbassi well.

Earlier this month Kirkland saw two London private equity partners jump to Willkie in an unusual development for the firm’s London office.