Chicago skyline is seen beyond the arctic sea smoke rising off Lake Michigan in Chicago...The Chicago skyline is seen beyond the arctic sea smoke rising off Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, January 6, 2014. A blast of Arctic air gripped the mid-section of the United States on Monday, bringing the coldest temperatures in two decades, forcing businesses and schools to close and causing widespread airline delays and hazardous driving conditions. Meteorologists said temperatures were dangerously cold and life-threatening in some places, with 0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) recorded in Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. The chill was set to bear down on eastern and southern states as the day wore on. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT CITYSCAPE TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Kirkland & Ellis, based in Chicago, became the highest-grossing law firm in the world at the end of 2018 © Reuters

The law firm Kirkland & Ellis has poached a leading Washington adviser to companies navigating secretive US foreign investment reviews, in the latest sign of intense demand for such dealmaking specialists.

Ivan Schlager will join Kirkland as a partner from US rival Skadden Arps later this year, leaving the firm where he has worked since 1999.

Mr Schlager is widely seen among US dealmakers as one of a handful of top advisers who regularly help companies on deals that must gain clearance from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius.

The secretive group made up of representatives from across the executive branch of the federal government vets whether deals will harm US national security and has the ability to block them in the extreme.

“Ivan is among the top lawyers in the country for Cfius and national security-related issues, which are prevalent in more transactions today than ever before,” said Jon Ballis, chairman of Kirkland’s global management executive committee.

Law firms try to leverage their expertise in navigating Cfius reviews as a source of differentiation to win new client work. Last year, for instance, the UK law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer hired Aimen Mir, the former Treasury department official who co-ordinated Cfius reviews.

Cfius has become even more important to dealmaking during the administration of Donald Trump, which has passed legislation to broaden the body’s reach as part of an effort to limit the ability of Chinese companies to acquire or invest in their US counterparts.

Mr Schlager’s hire marks the latest high-profile legal appointment by Kirkland, which has been aggressively poaching top talent from rivals in London and New York by paying top of the market salaries.

Kirkland’s hires in recent years include top private equity lawyers David Higgins and Adrian Maguire in London from Freshfields. In New York, the firm’s hires have included Eric Schiele and Jonathan Davis from Cravath Swaine & Moore. More recently it lured away David Klein from law firm Paul Weiss.

The tactic has contributed to catapulting the Chicago-headquartered law firm into the upper echelon of corporate law globally.

Kirkland became the highest-grossing law firm in the world at the end of 2018, with revenues of $3.7bn, up almost 20 per cent on the previous year. Kirkland’s 430 equity partners — who split the firm’s profits — took home more than $5m on average in 2018.

For Skadden, Mr Schlager’s departure comes months after another Cfius expert at the law firm left to go in-house at Sequoia Capital, the venture capital firm.

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