Allen & Overy's Washington, D.C. offices.
Allen & Overy’s Washington, D.C. offices. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Allen & Overy has continued its U.S. hiring spree with the recruitment of a three-partner finance and securities team from Paul Hastings, including former leveraged finance head Bill Schwitter.

Schwitter, who also previously chaired the U.S. firm’s corporate department, will join Allen & Overy later this week alongside finance and high yield specialist Michael Chernick and capital markets partner Jeffrey Pellegrino.

“Our ability to hire these highly regarded partners in such a fiercely competitive market shows the increasing attractiveness of our U.S. platform,” said Allen & Overy senior partner Wim Dejonghe.

Like the rest of the elite U.K. law firms, London-based Allen & Overy has struggled to make its mark across the Atlantic. Having launched in the United States in 1985, Allen & Overy still only has 45 partners and approximately 120 associates based in its offices in New York and Washington, D.C.

Dejonghe admits that New York has been a particularly difficult market for the firm. “Building in New York has historically been a challenge for any firm that’s started from outside New York, including many global U.S. firms,” he said. “It’s not dissimilar to the way that leading U.S. firms have struggled to crack the European market.”

But the U.S. market is now one of Allen & Overy’s “top priorities” globally, and the firm is seeking to “aggressively” expand its presence, particularly in finance, litigation and M&A, Dejonghe added.

Allen & Overy has already ramped up its trans-Atlantic investment, hiring 11 new partners in the past eight months alone.

Last summer, Allen & Overy significantly boosted its U.S.-based finance practice with the hire of four partners from Proskauer Rose and White & Case, and an associate from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, who joined the firm as a partner. Speaking to The American Lawyer’s U.K. sister title Legal Week shortly after the hires, Allen & Overy’s global co-head of banking Philip Bowden described the move as a “game changer” for the firm’s finance practice.

Then, last month, Allen & Overy bolstered its U.S. litigation and investigations practice by recruiting three partners from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and white-collar defense boutique Morvillo LLP.

It hasn’t all been one-way traffic, however: in November, Milbank hired three real estate partners from Allen & Overy’s New York office, including the Magic Circle firm’s former U.S. practice head, Kevin O’Shea.

Allen & Overy broke its lockstep in order to bring in the four finance partners last summer, which included White & Case partner Scott Zemser, who now co-chairs the firm’s leveraged finance practice globally. Allen & Overy and the other Magic Circle firms have modified their lockstep compensation systems in recent years in order to help them attract and retain high-profile partners—particularly in New York and London, where their lower profitability relative to top U.S. firms has made it harder to compete for lateral hires.

An Allen & Overy spokesman declined to comment on whether any of the latest hires are also on super-point compensation packages, but said in a statement: “We are confident that our compensation system provides us with the flexibility and firepower we need in the marketplace. This group of appointments is indicative of the fact that we can compete with U.S. firms financially.”

Schwitter, who will also spearhead the growth of a U.S. sponsor-side practice at Allen & Overy, told The American Lawyer that the Paul Hastings team was attracted to the Magic Circle firm’s international network, which comprises 44 offices in 31 countries. Paul Hastings has 21 offices in 11 countries. “Our clients have increasingly global aspirations,” he said. “It’s not to denigrate Paul Hastings to say that there’s no comparison. Paul Hastings is global, but there are few firms that can even hold a candle to Allen & Overy’s network.”

Dejonghe said that Allen & Overy’s long-term goal is to be recognized as having a leading presence in the United States across all of the firm’s key practice areas. “The U.S. is vital to our success as a global firm,” he said.

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