Freshfields to be sued over pension reform

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

is being sued by a former partner over the magic circle firm’s controversial pension reforms as cracks appear in its transformative restructuring programme.

Former head of insolvency Peter Bloxham, who retired from Freshfields on 31 October to take advantage of the firm’s old pension scheme, filed a claim with the Employment Tribunal on 22 November.

Freshfields has also become embroiled in a dispute with a number of other recently retired partners over a contentious non-compete clause in the firm’s pension schedule.

Leading partnership law specialist Ronnie Fox said: “I think the dissenting partners have a point. They’ve worked for their pensions and shouldn’t have them taken away because they’ve decided to go and work for another firm.” Under the old Schedule 2, the partnership council had the discretion to suspend a retired partner’s pension payments while they competed with Freshfields. This applies to the 30 partners who retired last month.

Freshfields tightened the language in the new Schedule 2A clause as part of its pension reforms after seeking opinions from several leading pensions barristers. The clause is now limited to just two years.

According to sources, a handful of retired partners, who do not want to be named, have clashed with Freshfields because they want the firm to apply the new non-compete clause in Schedule 2A to them.

One former partner told The Lawyer he was “angry” at Freshfields’ refusal to clarify his entitlement to a pension.

The case mirrors that of a 2003 claim brought by a former Freshfields partner who moved to a US firm. However, the legality of the non-compete clause was never tested as the case collapsed when the partner in question retired from practising law.

It is understood that some partners have instructed Herbert Smith senior partner David Gold to advise them. Freshfields, meanwhile, has retained regular adviser Lewis Silkin.

Freshfields and Bloxham declined to comment.