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Freshfields has dropped the number of annual partner promotions by a third and has continued to shun London lawyers in favour of its overseas offices.
Last year the firm made up 17 of its lawyers to partner level, while this year the number is down to 11.
Only four in the London office have joined the list with the other seven coming from Bangkok, Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore and Washington. In 1998, the majority of partners came from London, while four European lawyers made the grade and there were three new partners in Asia.
An outside observer, who used to work for the firm, says he is shocked at the low number being made up. "This is the lowest number of new partners for several years, I believe. I am especially surprised that only one was made up in the London corporate department.
Freshfields denies there is "anything sinister" in the lower number. "London is a maturer practice than our international offices so there is less need to make up more partners," says a spokesman.
Meanwhile Ashurst Morris Crisp is also one of the first to announce new partners with a list of six, the same number as last year.