In the first major poaching raid on a US firm on its home soil, Freshfields has recruited four US-qualified partners from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy to boost its New York and Washington DC offices.
"This is the birth of Freshfields America," said managing partner Ian Terry speaking from Washington DC.
Terry has spent the past 10 months searching for US high-flyers in projects and capital markets. The firm has until now not had US-qualified lawyers in New York and it only opened in Washington last month when it recruited projects partner Thomas Hechl from Chadbourne & Parke.
The four - project finance partner Ted Burke, structured finance partner Brian Rance, bond financing partner Jonathan Rod and Washington-based tax partner Greg May - are all highly regarded and were seen as the next generation of leaders at Milbank.
Terry said they had been attracted by Freshfields' greater international presence and commitment to international projects and securities.
"Their practice areas slip very nicely into the work we are already doing," he said.
Freshfields now has 20 lawyers in New York, 11 of whom are US-qualified,10 in Washington and 70 US lawyers in total around the world. A further senior lawyer, Ellen Hayes, is about to join the Washington office with consultant status from Canadian firm Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington.
Stephen Revell, Freshfields' head of capital markets, is moving to New York to take charge of the two US offices.
Freshfields aims to hire a further 11 US associates to support its four new partners. Several are likely to come across from Milbank.
The move is a blow to Milbank's international ambitions. In London last year it lost two top UK projects partners, Kenneth McRitchie and Nicholas Buckworth. The firm's average profits per partner of £537,000 ($860,000) last year were just above Freshfields at £520,000, according to the AmLaw 100 and The Lawyer top-50.
Bill Tudor John, senior partner at Allen & Overy, which already has US projects and securities partners in New York, said: "This is good news for Freshfields and good news for the rest of us. It's a signal that senior and capable US lawyers are beginning to find English firms desirable as the place to go and work."
In London two of the four Freshfields US securities associates threatening to go to Linklaters - John Basnage and Peter Castellon - have been persuaded to stay by new pay scales. But Peige Loh and Brad Gordon joined Linklaters.