Juan Picón, the Madrid-based global co-chairman of DLA Piper and corporate partner who played an instrumental role in the law firm’s expansion in Latin America and Europe, abruptly departed the firm and has joined Latham & Watkins.

He brings two other DLA Piper partners — Ignacio Gómez-Sancha and José Antonio Sánchez-Dafos, who join Latham as partners in the corporate practice.

Latham announced the team’s arrival on Nov. 2  and said the trio would continue their work representing banks, private equity and other companies in deal work in Spain and Latin America. In addition, Picón will assume the role of Madrid office managing partner for Latham at the end of the year.

Picón’s departure occurs less than two years after DLA Piper appointed him as its global co-chairman — one of several leadership roles he held during nearly a decade at DLA Piper, making his departure all the more unusual.

DLA Piper released a statement about the move on Nov. 2. Attributed to three of its leaders — its other global co-chairman Roger Meltzer, and global co-CEOs Jay Rains and Simon Levine — the statement raised as many questions as it answered.

“We are disappointed that Juan has decided to leave before completing his term as Senior Partner but we recognize the unique personal circumstances that have led him to make this decision. We wish Juan all the best for the future.”

Josh Epstein, a firm spokesman, was not immediately available to elaborate on what “the unique personal circumstances” alluded to in the statement meant or when his leadership term ended.

Neither Picón, Gómez-Sancha, Sánchez-Dafos were not immediately available for comment and neither was a Latham & Watkins spokesperson.

“I do think this is a big deal when a global co-chair leaves and it’s unpleasant obviously,” said Peter Zeughauser, a law firm consultant who has worked with DLA Piper. “Also, there are plenty of people at DLA, and at other firms, who think that when a person becomes a co-chair of the firm they ought to be loyal and stay... they’re in a position where they learn the most confidential information of a firm and they don’t expect them to leave.”

In departing DLA Piper to join Latham, the lawyers move to a firm that is also global, though considerably smaller. Latham & Watkins has roughly 2,400 lawyers in 31 offices in 14 countries -- and is mainly concentrated in the U.S., Europe, and Asia but no offices in Latin America, according to its website. By contrast, DLA Piper has more than 4,200 lawyers located in a network of offices across 40 countries, some of which are connected to the firm through a Swiss Verein structure, meaning the offices operate independently financially but market themselves under the same brand.

Picón joined DLA Piper in 2006 from the firm then known as Squire Sanders & Dempsey as managing partner for Spain. The following year, he was made international head of the corporate practice, and later joined the firm’s executive committee, with responsibility for Europe and the Middle East. Picón was listed as co-chair of the firm’s Latin American practice at the time of his departure.

Last December, when DLA announced its latest expansion in Latin America -- an agreement with Chilean law firm Bahamondez, Alvarez & Zegers to operate as BAZ/DLA Piper -- Picón helped announce the deal, calling it “a natural partner” for the firm’s work in Spain, Europe and Latin America. The move ties into a larger “pan-hemispheric” strategy at DLA Piper to target growth in Latin America, where it has opened offices or made alliances with law firms in Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Brazil.

In addition to his management role, Picón also has an active practice as a deal lawyer, advising clients such as the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners on several large deals in recent years, according to DLA Piper’s website.  Last September, for example, he led the team that advised CVC onthe $6.42 billion sale of Spain’s largest private hospital company, Quironsalud, to Fresenius SE, a publicly traded healthcare group in Europe.

Contact the reporter responsible for this story: Gabe Friedman at gabefriedman@outlook.com.

Contact the editors responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Tom Taylor at ttaylor@bna.com.