Cleary Gottlieb’s recent hire of deals lawyer Christopher R. Moore from rival Hogan Lovells underscores the firm’s confidence in the M&A market, despite economic turbulence, according to its attorneys.
“Immediate economic activity is not what we take into account when we hire partners,” Cleary M&A partner Benet O’Reilly said in an interview. “M&A is what we view as one of our core practice areas.”
Deals activity has already slowed after two record-breaking years that helped surge revenue and profits at Cleary and other major firms. Recession fears have also dampened expectations for M&A work.
“Deals will still get done, but probably not at the pace they were at last year,” said Moore, who was Hogan’s Silicon Valley office leader. “But there are still a lot of buyers and lots of sellers.”
Cleary has been steadily growing its Northern California operation, where it is focusing on technology and life sciences work. The firm announced the launch offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto late last year with former WilmerHale antitrust partner Heather Nyong’o and several lawyers from Cleary’s New York and Washington offices.
A growing number of Big Law firms, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, have planted their flags in the region in recent years to vie for business opportunities.
The Cleary offices are now home to eight partners, including O’Reilly, who came over from New York. He said the firm will look to make “opportunistic” hires in future.
O’Reilly and Moore also acknowledged looming economic uncertainty.
“There is always deal activity but the nature of the activity can change,” O’Reilly said. “When people are uncertain, that slows things down.”
Moore has advised Eli Lilly, Adobe Systems and Synopsys, among other tech and life sciences businesses.
He said valuations have become “more in line with reality” and some life sciences companies that want to go public “may have more difficulty because of the choppiness in the markets.”
“Clients will be looking at opportunities out there, the question is whether they will be able to execute,” he said.
Deals are also likely to get more regulatory scrutiny, according to Moore. He said the firm’s “strength in complimentary practices to M&A like antitrust, capital markets, private equity and litigation were significant draws.”
“Anybody in the tech sector will going to be under a microscope for any deal they do,” he said.