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Cleary Gottlieb Launches in California With WilmerHale Hire (2)

Nov. 17, 2021, 3:26 PMUpdated: Nov. 17, 2021, 7:16 PM

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has officially launched in California, hiring a prominent antitrust lawyer from WilmerHale and relocating a handful of attorneys to its new West Coast outposts.

Heather Nyong’o is the new hire headlining the launch in Palo Alto and San Francisco, which comes after Bloomberg Law reported last month the firm’s entry into the Bay Area was imminent. Nyong’o’s antitrust work in the courtroom lines up with Cleary’s position as a leading advisor to major corporate deals facing antitrust regulatory challenges around the globe.

Cleary is importing some of its heaviest hitters in its antitrust practice to San Francisco. Partners Brian Byrne and George Cary are making the move from Washington. Cary is the firm’s most senior U.S. antitrust lawyer and Byrne is a member of the firm’s global executive committee and former member of its Brussels office, where Cleary handles a number of large European antitrust investigations.

White collar partner Jennifer Kennedy Park and M&A partner Benet O’Reilly are also moving from New York to the new office with a team of six associates who practice in capital markets, corporate governance, privacy and technology transactions.

Cleary is the latest elite firm to join the mad scramble for talent and tech clients in Northern California. Since 2020, at least five major firms have opened offices there, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and Debevoise & Plimpton.

Cleary has long advised major Northern California tech companies, including Google and chipmaker Nvidia among others.

“The shifting regulatory environment and evolving needs of businesses across sectors adds compelling reasons to provide these clients with on-the-ground support,” Cleary Managing Partner Michael Gerstenzang said in a statement.

“We’ve assembled an outstanding team with the arrival of Heather and relocation of Brian, George, Jen, Benet, and a half-dozen fantastic associates,” Gerstenzang added. “We will build on this strong foundation by expanding our Bay Area presence with additional exceptional talent in the coming months.”

The new location is the firm’s third in the U.S. and 17th overall. Cleary’s most recent office openings were in 2012 in Seoul, South Korea and Abu Dhabi.

Cleary has advised Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia on matters including its pending $40 billion acquisition of U.K.-based competitor Arm Ltd. The firm represented Nvidia in obtaining in 2019 the sign-off from the EU’s competition regulator for its $7 billion purchase of Mellanox.

Google has turned to Cleary for numerous acquisitions, including some that required EU sign-off.

Most recently, the firm shepherded Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit, which endured a 15-month EU competition review.

“Amid a global wave of unprecedented antitrust scrutiny, regulation, and litigation targeting some of the world’s most innovative companies, we will protect our clients’ interests domestically and internationally,” Cary, a former deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement.

The firm, which reported more than $1.2 billion in gross revenue to The American Lawyer last year, was founded in New York in 1946 and employs around 1,100 lawyers.

Cleary is one of a small group of elite law firms that uses a “lockstep” compensation system, paying partners largely based on seniority rather than a market-based rate. It has reportedly joined other firms in modifying those systems to retain young stars and allow more flexibility in hiring partners from competitors.

Cleary’s new office is in Palo Alto. The firm said a San Francisco office will open soon.

(Adds detail on Cleary's antitrust work, comment from Cary, from 10th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at