Davis Polk & Wardwell announced Friday that it has hired Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer capital markets partner Simon Witty and will launch an English law practice out of its London office.

Davis Polk managing partner Thomas Reid says the firm decided to finally launch an English law practice in London because of “the recognition that we have to offer clients, and to be neutral among the major legal systems of the world — being U.S., English and Hong Kong law.” Davis Polk, he adds, is already offering English law capabilities elsewhere, so it makes sense to do so in the U.K.

Reid notes that Davis Polk lawyers have worked closely with Witty on complex Europe-based equity transactions in Europe. “He is ideally suited to help us launch our English law practice in London and to develop our existing English law capabilities in China and Brazil,” Reid says, adding that he expects Davis Polk to make additional strategic hires in London in the future.

The 48-year-old Witty, who will start at Davis Polk in April, became a partner at Freshfields in 1996. Over the past several years, he has had a hand in many international public offerings listed on the London exchanges, including those of AZ Electronic Materials (in 2010), Hansard Global PLC (in 2007) and PetroPlus Holding AG (in 2006).

Witty also advised on U.K.-issued rights and secondary offerings by the Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS, Bradford & Bingley and other British financial institutions, as well English law issues related to the Reed Elsevier merger and Abbey National’s acquisition of National and Provincial Building Society, according to his Freshfields bio, which the firm removed from its website Friday.

Davis Polk — which has long maintained “best friends” referral relationships with Magic Circle firms, particularly Slaughter & May but also Ashurst and Herbert Smith — was among the last New York-based firms with a London office but no English law practice in the U.K. (One other firm that, according to its website, does not offer an English law practice out of its London office is Cravath, Swaine & Moore.)

Reid says the launch of a U.K.-based English law practice is not intended as a way of competing head-to-head with the major London firms with whom it collaborates and from whom it get referrals.

“We don’t plan to be building out a massive English law practice,” Reid says. “Therefore we continue to believe that there will be opportunities to collaborate with Slaughter & May, and for that matter with Herbert Smith and Ashurst.”

The launch of an English law practice in London comes amid the firm’s broader push to grow globally. Reid, who was elected managing partner last April, told the Am Law Daily in August that Davis Polk is working to expand its presence in both Asia and Brazil. Along those lines, the firm has brought in a steady stream of high-profile lateral partners. Indeed, the hiring of Witty comes some 18 months after Davis Polk launched a Hong Kong law practice with the addition of two Linklaters partners, as we reported in August 2010.

This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.