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In a shock announcement, Hugh Crisp will step down as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer chief executive soon after the senior partner election - a move which heralds a sweeping management shake-up at the magic circle firm.
Crisp is understood to have felt unable to give a long-term commitment to the role because of family reasons.
He told The Lawyer: “I would happily have worked with any of the candidates or any combination of them.”
Crisp is understood to have been asked by all six candidates to continue in the role.
Crisp’s decision will mean a wholesale change of power at the top of Freshfields, which is undergoing its first contested management election for several years against a background of partnership restructuring.
Crisp was named chief executive in late 2003, succeeding former managing partner Alan Peck. His successor will be appointed by the senior partner or partners of the firm towards the end of the year.
In a statement, joint senior partner Anthony Salz said: "We are extremely sorry that Hugh is not going to continue as chief executive but fully understand his reasons.
"Hugh has been a great chief executive and one of the principal architects and communicators of our firm strategy. Before that, as managing partner, he led the development and integration of our knowledge management, training and development and graduate recruitment activities, all areas in which the firm now has a leading reputation."
Joint senior partner Konstantin Mettenheimer said: “Hugh is well known for his excellence as a lawyer, capabilities and commitment as a leader, and his personal warmth and humour. We are very sorry to lose him as chief executive."