SJ Berwin team defects to US rival

Kirkland Ellis has lured Mark Mifsud’s fund formation team to its London office as a complement to the transaction teams it hired last year from Allen & Overy and Linklaters.

Kirkland Ellis, a US law firm, has hired three senior lawyers from the private equity practice of UK rival SJ Berwin, as it continues its aggressive hiring in Europe.

Mark Mifsud, Richard Watkins and Justin Dolling, who specialise in fund formation, will join Kirkland as partners. Mifsud, who has been a partner at SJ Berwin since 1999, is the most senior loss. Watkins was made a partner in 2004, while Dolling received his promotion to the partnership last year.

Kirkland previously had no dedicated fund formation team in its London office. To date its lawyers have divided their time between transaction work and fund services. The three hires give Kirkland a ready-made team.

A rival at London law firm said Mifsud and his team would also benefit from the strength of Kirkland’s transaction practice. He said: “The relationships are important. In an ideal world a law firm will help form the fund and act on the buyout group’s behalf and for its portfolio companies.”

Kirkland has been actively building its private equity practice in the last year. In May, it hired leveraged finance specialist Stephen Gillespie from Allen & Overy, and then recruited private equity specialists Graham White and Raymond McKeeve from Linklaters in April.

The departures are a blow to SJ Berwin, which is renowned for its expertise in the fund formation area. Jonathan Blake, the senior partner and head of private equity, has been dubbed ‘the father of fund formation’ after his work with the government on behalf of the BVCA to establish the UK as an attractive destination for private equity funds.

Blake said: “The team remains a strong one at the forefront of the industry. We take nothing for granted and are always looking for ways to improve. That may or may not include hires.”