Freshfields has swallowed the nine-lawyer Madrid firm Hervada and Klingenberg and poached a leading partner from Garrigues & Andersen - its most significant expansion in Europe after its January merger with German firm Deringer Tessin Herrmann & Sedemund.
When the new partners - Joaquin Hervada, Miguel Klingenberg and Garrigues' Fernando Bautista - join in June, they will bring the Madrid office size to eight partners and 32 other lawyers.
According to one source, partners at Freshfields had been disappointed with the turnover of its Madrid and Barcelona offices. This move may be an attempt to inject new life into the Spanish practices.
But John Byrne, managing partner of Freshfields' Spanish operations, said both the Madrid and Barcelona offices have been extremely busy with privatisation and initial public offering work for Spanish clients.
He said: "We felt we needed to strengthen our practice and in one swoop we have picked up three of the best commercial lawyers in Madrid."
He plans to increase the number of Freshfields lawyers in Spain from 40 to 50 by the end of 1998.
The move appears to be part of a strategy to expand its foreign law by takeovers of small firms. Earlier this year it took over a tiny Tokyo practice to give it Japanese law capability.
But Spain's largest law firm after the accountants' legal arms - 350-lawyer Cuatrecasas - remains unconcerned.
Barcelona-based partner Enric Picanol said he believed Freshfields' offices in Spain still relied heavily on its London clients for Spanish work.
The move comes at a time when other big City firms such as Clifford Chance are seeking merger partners in Spain. Clifford Chance appears to have failed to bring on board Ur'a & Menendez, which is likely to join in a new alliance with Linklaters.
Picanol said Cuatrecasas was not interested in merging with northern European firms.
He told The Lawyer that it was in merger talks with leading Portuguese firm Goncalves Pereira Castelo Branco e Associados and is also considering its options in Brazil and Argentina.