Paul Weiss poaches Kirkland lawyers in London and US

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Elite US law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison is poaching a group of private equity specialist lawyers including Neel Sachdev from rival Kirkland & Ellis, as a hiring war for top lawyers escalates. 

Alongside Sachdev, the firm will take on senior Kirkland lawyers in London, including capital markets partner Matthew Merkle and debt finance partner Kanesh Balasubramaniam, according to people familiar with the details.

Paul Weiss is also hiring some of its rival’s US debt finance lawyers including Eric Wedel, Kirkland confirmed.

The hires represent the latest high-profile poaching in the London and New York legal market, where senior dealmaking lawyers can command annual pay packages of more than $10mn, rivalling top bankers. Private equity specialist lawyers are becoming among the most sought after in the industry after a dealmaking boom.

Kirkland partners earned $7.5mn on average last year, the highest of any law firm, according to data provider The American Lawyer.

Sachdev declined to comment. Kirkland said it “appreciates their contributions to the partnership and [wishes] them the best at their new firm”.

Kirkland made an industry-leading $6.5bn in net revenues in 2022, in part thanks to a business that has catered to the rapid expansion of the private equity industry over the past three decades. 

Rival firms are now emulating its strategy of luring top lawyers that specialise in the buyout industry.

Kirkland opened an office in London in 1994 and has cemented its status there over the past several years by poaching some of the top lawyers to private equity groups, including David Higgins and Adrian Maguire from Freshfields. Earlier this month, it announced it was hiring Alvaro Membrillera, a senior lawyer at Paul Weiss in London who advises private equity firms on deals.

Sachdev is leaving after more than 20 years at Kirkland where he played an important role in building its business in Europe. 

He advises private equity groups on the financing of leveraged buyouts, with clients including Bain Capital, BC Partners and Warburg Pincus.

Sachdev is the latest significant departure from Kirkland in recent weeks after fellow private equity lawyer Roger Johnson left, according to people familiar with the details.

Paul Weiss is one of Wall Street’s best-known law firms, with large US private equity groups Apollo Global Management among its clients.

The firm, led by Brad Karp, counts superstar M&A lawyer Scott Barshay among its partners. Paul Weiss also hired Morgan Stanley’s M&A chair Rob Kindler in June. The firm has a relatively small presence in London, employing more than 30 lawyers, according to its website.

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