13 December 2019

HSF appoints chief exec as Allen & Overy prepares for leadership votes

Justin D'Agostino gets nod at Herbert Smith Freehills while A&O faces contested elections

The partnership at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has voted in Hong Kong-based Justin D'Agostino as the firm’s new chief executive as Allen & Overy (A&O) prepares for contested leadership elections. D'Agostino (pictured) will take over from Mark Rigotti on 1 May and intends to lead the firm from Hong Kong, where he is currently head of litigation and Asia and US managing partner.

The appointment was announced on the same day as it emerged that A&O senior partner Wim Dejonghe is being challenged by banking co-head Philip Bowden as he seeks a second term.

And no fewer than six partners are vying to succeed Andrew Ballheimer as managing partner when he retires from the firm on 30 April, at the end of his current term.

The contested elections will allow A&O’s partnership to debate its strategy in the light of the recent failure of the firm’s high-stakes merger talks with US practice O’Melveny & Myers.

In contrast, the appointment of HSF’s chief executive appears more straightforward, D'Agostino having been nominated for the role by the firm’s council, with the appointment subsequently put to a partnership vote.

In a statement, HSF said he had received widespread support from the partnership across the firm. Senior partner James Palmer said: “Justin combines great ambition for the firm with an ability to inspire, as well as successful leadership experience across our regions and markets.”

D'Agostino, who is Scottish, has spent his legal career at HSF, having joined the firm in 1998 before going on to become a partner in 2007. 

He regularly sits as an arbitrator and recent work includes representing the Government of Korea on the first investment treaty arbitration under the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

He founded the firm's first LGBT+ network in 2007, and is a member of the 30% Club Hong Kong, an initiative to secure more women appointed to Hong Kong corporate boards.

Rigotti became HSF’s chief executive in 2014, two years after the firm was created by the merger of UK-based Herbert Smith with leading Australian firm Freehills.

In July the firm reported a 4% increase in revenue to £966m against an 11% increase in profits per equity partner to £949,000.