Freshfields goes big on high-yield with Simpson Thacher swoop

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has taken the rare step of bringing in a non-partner from a rival firm as an equity partner.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett counsel Gil Strauss will join the magic circle firm as partner in September in a move aimed at beefing up its high-yield offering.

The last lateral hire who was not been a partner at his previous firm was Linklaters associate Chris Howard, who joined the banking department in 2003.

Describing Strauss as “a bit of a superstar”, Howard commented: “This shows a real commitment to the product and a real push into underwriter work.”

He predicted that more associates and counsel in the high-yield market could be recruited as partners by magic circle firms.
“There’s a shallow pool to recruit from, so it could ­happen again, although maybe not with us,” he added. “We’ve now got the best guy and got him early.”

The move has been hailed as a sign that the magic circle is ready to redouble its ­challenge in the ­traditionally US-dominated high-yield space. Last year Allen & Overy hired Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCoy high-yield partner Kevin Muzilla.

One senior banking in-houser said: “Everyone wants to get into that space at the moment and the magic circle is still lagging behind. Building up as a credible high-yield practice won’t happen overnight.”

Strauss will sit in a group of around six US securities lawyers that will straddle the corporate and banking departments as Freshfields targets more underwriter work.

The new group will include two or three partners and four associates, with either US corporate head Sarah Murphy or US securities partner Don Guiney moving into the team.

Murphy said Strauss and the new team will be able to offer a more complete ­practice in both the high-yield and broader corporate finance spaces.

“High-yield’s become a niche practice when it should be part of a ­mainstream product,” she commented. “We feel we can offer something that no one else can offer, as we can advise on the senior debt side and equity side as well.”

Freshfields global head of finance Alan Newton added: “We’ve been ­thinking about this for a while and we’ve had a lot of clients tell us we should offer this, so now’s the right time to be doing it.”