Freshfields upsets assistants with email clanger

In a damaging email blunder, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has revealed limited partnership promotion prospects for associates in the London project finance department.

In an emailed memo intended for project finance partners, but mistakenly sent out to assistants, the firm set out the business case for growth of the department.

Sources at Freshfields said that some London projects associates believe that, in view of the contents of the memo, their prospects for promotion are bleak.

The memo linked assistant promotions to three factors: movement of London partners to other global offices, partner retirement and the growth of the firm’s oil and gas business.

Freshfields head of finance Simon Hall said: “The memo was consistent with the message given to senior assistants in their appraisals.”

However, he conceded that more junior lawyers may have been “surprised” by the email.

Hall also said that there are several partners in the department close to retirement age and there are also plans to relocate London partners overseas.

One Freshfields source said that the email had caused real management problems. At least one associate has subsequently resigned, although Hall said she is taking a career break.

Project finance currently accounts for around 25 per cent of the turnover of Freshfields’ finance practice. It is particularly strong in the UK PFI/public-private partnership market, with London Underground a key revenue generator, but the client has a very limited lifespan for major projects.

One Freshfields source also cited an institutional indifference to project finance at Freshfields. The source said: “It’s perceived as a low-margin business – unglamorous and difficult to make money on.”