Freshfields busts Asia lockstep in bid to keep rainmakers

Freshfields has broken its traditional lockstep in Asia in a bid to remain competitive in the region’s tightening legal talent market, with two top performing partners in Hong Kong awarded considerable bonus equity points last year.

It is understood that the firm voted through the groundbreaking arrangements following the departure of its former global co-head of capital markets Kay Ian Ng and regional corporate leader Christopher Wong in Hong Kong in 2011. The two partners joined the Hong Kong office of Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett respectively.

A key feature of the new arrangements means that global senior partner Will Lawes will have an extra pool of equity points that will be allocated to top performing partners under his discretion each year.

Previously, equity partners could receive a maximum of 50 points according to the lockstep system, but the changes enable exceptional partners to receive up to 30 per cent extra points than their peers on the same ladder. Two Hong Kong partners were said to have received the extra points for the past financial year and those points will be valid for three years.

The firm has also introduced more flexibility measures to its partnership. In China, for example, making it easier to promote associates to salaried partners and lowering the experience thresholds from seven year PQEs to six years.

“Freshfields sees China as a very important market and its decision to introduce more flexibility to partner promotions in China was a reflection of the market’s importance and the challenges of recruiting and retaining talents there,” said a source close to the firm.

“Freshfields has broken its lockstep by giving its top rainmaking partners extra points and offering fast-tracked partnership for some senior associates in China. That’s a quite explosive move,” said another source.

The firm declined to comment.