Magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is one of the oldest firms in the City, celebrating its 275th anniversary in 2018. The firm’s first client was the Bank of England, which it still represents today. Many Freshfields partners eventually ended up joining the Bank: Graham Nicholson left to head up its legal team in 2008, for example. When, on 6 October 1944, a flying bomb scored a direct hit on Freshfields’ offices at 31 Old Jewry, the Bank came to
Magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is one of the oldest firms in the City, celebrating its 275th anniversary in 2018. The firm’s first client was the Bank of England, which it still represents today. Many Freshfields partners eventually ended up joining the Bank: Graham Nicholson left to head up its legal team in 2008, for example. When, on 6 October 1944, a flying bomb scored a direct hit on Freshfields’ offices at 31 Old Jewry, the Bank came to the rescue, offering the firm accommodation in its vaults. Freshfields opened for business as usual on Monday morning.
The firm made the decision to shift its focus from private clients to corporate law in 1974. Although very City-blue-blood, the firm didn’t really have the same plc client base as Slaughters and Linklaters in the 1970s. From the 1980s onwards, however, it started to get close to the US investment banks who were building their activities in the City after the Big Bang. Freshfields’ corporate lawyers developed relationships with the likes of Morgan Stanley who were financial advisers on the big deals. This was the making of superstar partners such as Barry O’Brien, who ended up as the firm’s head of corporate.
While Freshfields was one of the most balanced magic circle firms in terms of its corporate/litigation split, for a long time it was unsure about what it wanted to do in finance and was reliant on laterals, most famously David Ereira, who joined from Wilde Sapte in 1990, followed by – briefly – Maurice Allen and Mike Goetz. In 2003 the firm brought in McKinsey to consult on growing finance. At the time, Freshfields’ core banking practice was perceived as too small and borrower-focused; historically, the firm has shunned vanilla finance work, although it belatedly realised that a certain amount was essential for banking relationships.
Mergers with Deringer Tessin Herrmann & Sedemund and Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber came in 2000. Deringer was a relatively small Cologne-based corporate firm; Bruckhaus an elite German-Austrian outfit. The union was a game-changing one on the Continent and has been a broadly happy one.
The mergers kicked off a major period of expansion under the leadership of Alan Peck in the early 2000s. This included the USA, where Freshfields attempted to build up an antitrust capability rather than chase pure corporate work in New York.
The mid-2000s brought some bumps in the road, however. Philip Green’s bid for M&S saw Freshfields embroiled in a conflicts row that dragged on, while internally a long-running dispute over the pensions pot developed. Freshfields had always had a pension it paid out to partners and new CEO Ted Burke wanted to rationalise it. He pushed forward with a strategy called Size and Shape which looked at the firm’s global exposure and partner pensions. Insolvency partner Peter Bloxham and others sued the firm (eventually losing).
At the same time, the Size and Shape strategy saw niche practice groups slimmed down, the de-equitisation of 100 partners and a shift of focus even further towards corporate M&A. This was traumatic at the time but had the unanticipated benefit that Freshfields had done a lot to get its house in order before the recession hit two years later.
Burke, who had initially joined Freshfields from US law firm Milbank Tweed as part of its push into the USA, eventually exited to join an American private equity fund.
Allen & Overy approached the firm in the mid-2000s about a potential merger but was rebuffed; otherwise the firm it is most linked with is Debevoise & Plimpton, which it teamed up with for capital markets work.
For many years Freshfields had a reputation as a firm of ‘Blues and blondes’; with the increased focus in the profession as a whole on diversity, this has diluted somewhat. Georgia Dawson became the firm’s first senior partner in 2021 while a triumvirate replaced the previous sole managing partner Stephan Eilers.
|Appointed||Managing partners||Chief executive||Senior partner|
|Alan Peck||John Grieves|
|1995||Ian Terry||Alan Peck||Anthony Salz|
|2000||Anthony Salz & Christian Wilde|
|2004||Hugh Crisp||Anthony Salz & Konstantin Mettenheimer|
|2006||Ted Burke||Guy Morton & Konstantin Mettenheimer|
|2010||Ted Burke||Role scrapped||Will Lawes|
|2016||Chris Pugh & Stephan Eilers||–||Edward Braham|
|2021||Alan Mason, Rafique Bachour & Rick van Aerssen||–||Georgia Dawson|
What is the trainee salary at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer?
1st year trainee: £45,000
2nd year trainee: £51,000
What is the NQ salary at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer?
NQ solicitor: £100,000