Tai-Heng Cheng, Sidley Austin. Tai-Heng Cheng, Sidley Austin.

Sidley Austin is bulking up its East Coast operations, adding a pair of high-profile litigators from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in New York.

Tai-Heng Cheng, who chaired Quinn Emanuel’s New York international arbitration practice, is joining Sidley as a partner in the Big Apple. Simon Navarro, who was of counsel at Quinn Emanuel, is making the move with Cheng, taking on an of counsel role at Sidley. 

“I had a very successful career at Quinn Emanuel, but my clients had started to view me as a trusted adviser and not just for their disputes needs,” Cheng said of his departure from the litigation shop.

Cheng, a former Simpson Thacher & Bartlett associate, focuses his practice on international commercial and investor-state arbitrations.

Over the course of his 15-year career, Cheng has achieved nine-figure awards for clients in commercial and investment-treaty arbitrations and has represented clients in litigation, investigations and government enforcement actions worldwide.

In 2018, he represented Houston-based Vantage Drilling, which won a $622 million award—plus 15.2 percent compound interest—in an arbitration under the International Center for Dispute Resolution.

But as he scored victories for his clients, which included the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and emerging market investor Actis Capital, they began asking for his counsel on business-related matters that were outside what he could offer at Quinn, Cheng said.

It was actually a mutual client that introduced Sidley to Cheng, he said.

“I realized that … if I was at a global, multi-industry, multi-practice platform like Sidley … if they came to me with these issues I could say, ‘no problem,’ and in six hours, I would have a team assembled for them with whatever they needed across practice groups, across offices—and really deliver business solutions to them rather than selling discrete litigation or arbitration services,” he added.

In his new role, Cheng said he’s looking forward to helping Sidley expand and deepen its offerings to clients. Cheng, who is fluent in Mandarin, will also help Sidley continue its growth in Asia, specifically in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

“The Sidley platform in arbitration really is a very venerable platform,” Cheng said. “It’s a tremendous brand and I think being part of that will enable me to grow my business but also Sidley’s arbitration business.”

Chicago-based Sidley has been looking to expand its services in Asia, according to Yvette Ostolaza, global co-leader of Sidley’s litigation practice and member of its management and executive committees.

“Tai gives us double Scrabble points in that regard,” she said.

Also making the move with Cheng is former Clifford Chance and White & Case associate Simon Navarro. Navarro, a Spanish national, also specializes in international arbitration and litigation.

“He will be, I think, a key player in developing our business in Spain and in Latin America given his abilities not just as a lawyer, but also in having the confidence and trust of corporations in Spain and Latin America,” Cheng said. 

The pair’s addition comes amid a weeklong lateral hiring spree for the firm whose gross revenue jumped 9 percent to $2.2 billion last year.

On Wednesday, Sidley picked up a private equity group from Cooley headed by longtime partner Mehdi Khodadad in Century City, while in New York the firm added longtime Paul Hastings restructuring partner Leslie Plaskon as partner in its firm’s global finance practice.

“I’ve enjoyed my time at Paul Hastings … [but] I reached a point though in my career where I felt like it was time to make a change,” said Plaskon, who joined the Los Angeles-founded firm in 1998.

“Sidley’s collaborative environment and culture and depth of experience drew me to the firm. It has a tremendous global presence, and the way the teams work together across the globe was just an absolute draw,” she added.

Quinn Emanuel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

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