Freshfields paves the way to oust underperformers

Magic circle firm proposes tougher centralised process for sacking weaker partners; vote imminent

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

is to make it easier to get rid of underperforming partners.

If partners vote in favour early next year, the firm will no longer require a partnership vote to oust partners; instead, powers will be delegated to a slimmed-down partnership council, The Lawyer can reveal.

The reforms are part of the most radical governance package in Freshfields’ history. The measures on underperforming partners include various safeguards, but essentially powers to remove partners will be delegated to the council. Freshfields currently requires a 75 per cent majority to oust partners. A council would be a radical step.

Freshfields is the second magic circle firm this year to consider potential sanctions against weaker partners. Clifford Chance made similar changes to its constitution five months ago. Previously, it required a partner ballot with an 85 per cent partner majority, but now management can remove underperformers directly.

Some of Freshfields’ high-earning German partners have long been in favour of changes to rules that govern partner removal. Peter Nussbaum’s star private equity trio, which quit for Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy earlier this year, had been vocal proponents of internal change.

However, a senior source told The Lawyer that the proposals did not come from any one area of the network.

The proposed changes go hand-in-hand with plans to slim down the partnership council, which currently has 20 members. The consultation suggests that this be reduced to 15.

Confirming the proposal, Freshfields chief executive Hugh Crisp said: “The removal of partners and streamlining of the council are two issues on which we’re currently consulting with the partnership.”

Crucially, this will reduce the Anglo-German dominance of the governing body, as the five places to be axed are likely to come from London and Germany.