Freshfields restructure sparks new legal threat

Former litigation head Rickard poised to sue as seven more partners leave

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

is facing a slew of partner departures and a potential claim by its former disputes co-head at the end of a financial year that has seen a punishing restructuring programme.

A departing group of at least seven partners from projects, litigation, equity capital markets and finance has emphasised Freshfields’ renewed focus on M&A.

This stance was reinforced by the firm only giving full equity to one of its new finance partners in the recent round of promotions.

Patrick Wallace, the partner responsible for drafting the merger agreement between the Freshfields, Bruckhaus and Deringer firms, is part of the departing group. The highly symbolic move sees Wallace go to Simmons & Simmons, taking well-respected projects partner Andrew Bonser with him.
Projects is one area that has been repositioned. The firm’s restructuring has accounted for the departures of 100 equity partners since April last year, with projects partners being integrated into the infrastructure sector group.

Meanwhile, Dewey Ballantine is launching its UK litigation capability with partner Alastair Crawford from Freshfields. Dewey is also taking Freshfields equity capital markets partner Carlo Kostka.

On Thursday (26 April), Freshfields’ Asia practice, another focus of the firm’s restructuring, was rocked as China head Douglas Markel left to launch Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s Beijing office.

It is also understood that asset finance partner Rex Rosales and insurance
litigation partner Roger Enock are leaving, although their destinations remain unclear.

One Freshfields partner said: “There was the opportunity to pause and think what’s good for them, even if they weren’t a focus of the restructuring. Leaving now, at the end of the financial year, is the neatest point.”

The Lawyer can also reveal that Herbert Smith senior partner David Gold is advising Freshfields’ former disputes co-head Jo Rickard, who left last September for Shearman & Sterling and who is threatening legal action against Freshfields over the restrictive covenant in her pension. Meanwhile,
former partner Peter Bloxham is suing Freshfields for age discrimination.

The firm declined to comment.