Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer restructures global management

As Freshfields reveals its new-look management system, Julia Cahill and Catrin Griffiths report on the rising stars.

FRESHFIELDS Bruckhaus Deringer has launched a new structure of global practice heads and an elected partnership council.

Global heads for seven practice areas took up their new roles on 1 August. In an attempt to reflect the Anglo-German nature of the firm’s business, and as a first step to integration, each of the practice areas has two heads – one UK and one German. They will each serve a three-year term of office.

Mindful of the politics since the merger, the German side is a judicious mix of Bruckhaus and Deringer partners. Former Deringer partners will head the competition and tax practices, with Bruckhaus taking five others. Only one post remains empty – that of public law. Sources say that it is likely to go to an Austrian partner from Vienna firm Heller Löber, which merged with Bruckhaus prior to the merger with Freshfields, and has no other representative on the practice group level.

The key positions of corporate practice heads go to Barry O’Brien and Düsseldorf partner Axel Epe. In both firms corporate work dominates; Freshfields’ London corporate practice turned over as much in revenue as the litigation and finance practices put together last year. While O’Brien is known as a corporate rainmaker, the appointment of Epe is even more significant. He was one of the small group of prominent Düsseldorf Bruckhaus partners who opposed the merger.

Epe says: “On the one side I foresee a lot of work but on the other side I hope it will be a lot of fun to create this new player.”

UK partner James George, who is heading up global real estate with former Bruckhaus man Johannes Conradi, says: “We’re going to have to become more imaginative and more understanding, more Europeanised and internationalised in our thinking. That’s a big step for us to take.”

George says the new structure signifies two major changes for the firm: a shift away from organisation on a geographical to a practice area basis and the acceptance that areas cannot be neatly compartmentalised but are “fuzzy around the edges”.

Freshfields is not the first to set up a system of global practice heads – Clifford Chance adopted the system after its merger with Rogers & Wells and Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster last year.

The management reshuffle has brought three younger partners to prominence, all of whom are regarded as rising stars within the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer hierarchy. They are London corporate partner Will Lawes, London competition partner Deirdre Trapp, and Cologne tax partner Stephan Eilers.

Global head of competition and trade Trapp is one of three female global heads (see box) and one of the youngest members of the new team. Trapp was made up to partner in 1995 and heads the London competition law team. She advised Tesco on the Competition Commission inquiry into grocery retailing and the Royal Bank of Scotland on the competition aspects of its acquisition of National Westminster Bank.

Will Lawes, who has been a corporate partner since 1994, has been elected to the new partnership council. His major transactions include the mergers of BP and Amoco, Amersham and Nycomed, and PowerGen’s bid for MEP.

Stephan Eilers, who splits his time between Frankfurt and Cologne, was a Freshfields Deringer partner prior to the merger with Bruckhaus. Apart from O’Brien, Eilers is the only practice group head also to have been voted onto the partnership council.

Global heads

Corporate: Barry O’Brien (London), Axel Epe (Düsseldorf)

Litigation: Jo Rickard (London), Rolf Trittmann (Frankfurt)

Finance: Simon Hall (London), Andreas König (Frankfurt)

IP/IT: Avril Martindale (London), Peter Chrocziel (Frankfurt)

Employment, pensions: Peter Jeffcote (London), Heinz-Josef Willemsen (Düsseldorf)

Real estate: James George (London), Johannes Conradi (Hamburg)

Tax: Stephan Eilers (Cologne), Roger Berner (Amsterdam)

Public law: yet to be confirmed