Freshfields set to get hands ‘dirty’ with private equity drive

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s London office is making a serious push for private equity work after years of being viewed by the market as a minor player.

Aside from two longstanding private equity clients, Cinven and Warburg Pincus, Freshfields has until recently preferred to concentrate its resources on public M&A.

Freshfields sources said some corporate partners at the firm still view private equity work as “a bit dirty”, but others said it is now a “major strategic priority”.

However, The Lawyer can reveal that it has won a whopping six new private equity mandates in the last nine months, including CVC Capital Partners, Terra Firma, Apax and, incredibly, US vulture fund Cerberus, albeit all on a non-exclusive basis.

In the same period it has marketed to a host of unattached UK and US private equity houses, often treading the same ground as Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

The little-known private equity group was reformed in the wake of the Bruckhaus merger in 2001 with Germany’s excellent contacts one of the firm’s key priorities.

However, its joint leader Chris Bown, a rare lateral from Baker & McKenzie in 1988, admits that it took until the end of 2002 to achieve the right “internal mass”.

Bown said: “We can now spend more time on outward-facing activities such as marketing. I think we’re a serious private equity firm now.”

Of the corporate and funds partners in the group, 11 are now dedicating half their time to private equity. Although Bown admitted this is a function of the dead M&A market, he said the group will remain in place if and when traditional M&A picks up.