Smith Gambrell & Russell has opened its first office outside of the US after poaching from Blake Morgan in the UK, while antitrust and aviation expert Alec Burnside has joined the partnership at Dechert after defecting from Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft.

Smith Gambrell & Russell

Aircraft finance partners Mark Turnbull, 37, and Ben Graham-Evans, 41, have left Blake Morgan to join Smith Gambrell & Russell, after the US firm announced the launch of a new office in London on 6 January.

“Our practice did not feel like it was aligning with the overriding business direction of Blake Morgan, as a UK regional firm, without an international component,” Graham-Evans said. “In a nutshell, we were standing out a bit, so we decided to seek new challenges. We met with Smith Gambrell & Russell, which is a substantial firm in the US, and the move made sense to us.”

Forum shopping is common in aircraft finance, so being able to offer both New York and UK law services under the same umbrella at one firm is an excellent opportunity, he said.

“We are now a 15-partner aviation team globally. It gives us a leg up in terms of our global capabilities to serve clients. In terms of the future, we would be hoping to bite at the heels of the big law firms,” Graham-Evans said.

While at Blake Morgan, Graham-Evans and Turnbull advised Irish leasing platform Aergo Capital on several transactions, including a number of sale and leaseback deals in the far east. They also advised Shaheen Air international – PIA’s main competitor in Pakistan – when it replenished its entire fleet of aircraft.  Other significant clients include TUI Group.

“The newly combined aviation practice is already acting for a number of high quality clients, which our competitors would very much like to have,” Turnbull said. “So we are already competing.”

Both partners started at the new firm on 1 January and will split their time between London and Southampton, on the UK’s south coast.

Stephen M Forte, the managing partner at Smith Gambrell & Russell, said he was proud of the firm’s growth in London, which will add “a third leg to the stool” of its transatlantic aviation practice. The firm now counts 15 lawyers across the UK and the US – in New York and Atlanta, Georgia.

The firm said it decided to prioritise its opening in London, which it described as the centre of aviation finance outside the US.

Both partners are joined by associate Gareth Hawes, who also made the switch from Blake Morgan.

Manoj Styche-Patel, divisional director for commercial services at Blake Morgan, said: “Blake Morgan has been working in partnership with Ben and Mark on the migration of the aviation finance practice area and wish them every success in the future.”


Meanwhile, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft Brussels managing partner Alec Burnside has joined Dechert’s competition practice.

Burnside, whose formal start date was 10 January, is longstanding counsel to Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus. In December, he acted for the airline in its appeal against an order by the European Commission instructing the Irish government to collect up to €4 million in illegal state aid.

In 2015, he successfully defended the airline against several high-profile appeals by Ryanair, which challenged a decision by the UK Competition and Markets Authority, ordering the budget carrier to sell its minority share in Aer Lingus.

“I am thrilled to join Dechert – a firm with a global reputation for excellence in competition and antitrust matters,” Burnside told GTDT Aviation Law News sister publication Global Competition Review. “It’s going to result in an exceptionally strong joint Europe-US antitrust offering – we are very excited.”

Burnside began his career at Linklaters in 1984, where he rose to global head of antitrust, and became Cadwalader’s Brussels managing partner in 2011.

“Alec is on everyone’s shortlist of outstanding competition law practitioners in Brussels,” said Michael Weiner, co-leader of Dechert’s global competition practice. “He has everyone’s respect and is going to be a terrific partner.”

Also making the switch is senior counsel Anne MacGregor, who worked alongside Burnside on Aer Lingus/Ryanair.

“Our new hires speak well to our efforts to gain critical mass in Europe – we have every intention of continuing to build,” said Weiner.

Cadwalader did not respond to a request for comment.