Freshfields’ new boss has the wit to succeed

David Aitman likely to be adaptable in a changing legal environment

How to describe David Aitman? New global managing partner of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer? Concert-standard pianist? Keen gardener?

All true, but none that useful in predicting the change in tone when he takes over from incumbent Ted Burke in 2014. How about “measured”, “thoughtful”, “cerebral”? After all, those are the words used by fellow partners at the firm, as are “steely”, “analytical” and even “the conscience of the firm”.

Aitman joined Freshfields in 2001 from Denton Hall. But as former co-head of the competition practice and senior elected member of governing body the Partnership Council since 2010 he has been central to the strategy and ethos of the firm.

But should Freshfields partners be expecting a change in tone after Burke’s eight-year leadership?

According to one partner, “Aitman helped develop the strategy with Ted and Will [Lawes] so nobody is expecting a sudden change in direction. Ted ricochets around the place, he’s an energy ball. David gives the impression of being more cerebral, he’s considered and measured, and he’s a senior guy on the partnership council so people have a lot of time and respect for him.”

Another concurs that Aitman and Burke are quite different characters, but a third Freshfields partner muses: “There are more similarities than differences. They’re both quite quiet but analytical; they’re both focused, determined people.”

The circumstances greeting Aitman when he takes over are different to those that greeted Burke, who presided over a wave of change. Aitman will take over a much more unified team.

“From David’s standpoint it’s not as though we’re in crisis – we haven’t lost our sixth game of the season and the firm’s doing really well,” says one partner.

With change sweeping the legal market, Aitman will have to think on his feet as he adapts his strategy. Luckily, one thing he seems to share with his predecessor is the management brain to deal with the challenges ahead.