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Leading Cleary M&A Partner Neil Whoriskey Heads to Milbank (2)

Sept. 14, 2020, 3:51 PMUpdated: Sept. 14, 2020, 9:00 PM

Neil Whoriskey, a veteran Cleary Gottlieb dealmaker, has joined Milbank as a partner in its New York office.

Whoriskey served as co-chair of Cleary’s M&A practice and its corporate advisory practice before his departure, according to Milbank.

His exit comes less than a year after fellow Cleary senior M&A partner Ethan Klingsberg left for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, bringing three other team members with him.

Klingsberg’s departure raised questions about the strict lockstep partner compensation model used by Cleary and a handful of other Big Law firms. This seniority-based model doesn’t allow firms to pay extra for top business generators.

Last week, Davis Polk became the latest Big Law firm to drop their strict lockstep system. Managing partner Neil Barr said such a model was not compatible with the firm’s “strategic designs.”

Whoriskey spent nearly three decades at Cleary, and advised private equity and corporate clients on a broad range of deals. These included Daewoo Motors in its sale to General Motors, Western Digital’s $19 billion acquisition of SanDisk, and McDonald’s in the disposition of assets in Latin America and China. He has also worked on matters for Carlyle Global Partners, ABB, América Móvil, American Tower, and OpenText.

Whoriskey said in an interview he made the switch to Milbank because the opportunity “was too hard to pass up.”

“I had a great time at Cleary,” he said. “It’s a great firm. I have lots and lots of friends there and I was sad to leave it.”

Whoriskey said he was particularly attracted to Milbank’s industry-specific expertise, including in telecommunications, infrastructure, and energy. “It’s helpful to have that depth of understanding when you’re buying and selling companies,” he said.

“Neil has an impressive record of executing innovative, highly complex domestic and cross-border transactions in a variety of industry sectors that perfectly complements our global platform,” said Milbank chairman Scott A. Edelman in a statement. “The respect his clients have for him is well-earned, and we’re excited to bring him on board.”

A Cleary spokeswoman said via email, “we thank Neil for his contributions to the firm and wish him all the best.”

In January, Milbank brought on corporate M&A partner Lisa O’Neill in London, and it has been expanding its Germany and Los Angeles M&A practices over the past several years, according to the firm. Among other deals, Milbank recently advised on Eldorado Resorts Inc.’s acquisition of Caesars Entertainment Corp. and U S. Steel’s strategic investment in Big River Steel.

Whoriskey’s move was brokered by Sabina Lippman of Lippman Jungers Bala.

(Added information throughout from interview with Whoriskey and Cleary's response. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com