Freshfields bolsters US M&A and finance practices with new group heads from Wachtell and Skadden

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has added two partners, fomerly of elite US firms, to the newly created roles of M&A and leveraged finance heads in the US.

The firm has taken on former Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz partner and the co-founder of private equity firm Paine & Partners, Mitchell Presser, as well as former Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom partner James Douglas.

Presser joins the firm after seven years at Paine & Partners, which he joined in 2006 after 17 years at Wachtell.

Douglas spent his entire career at Skadden, where he was formerly the firm’s banking and finance group head.  

The hires are a bid to cement Freshfields’ presence on global deals and reflect the increasing importance of the US for leveraged finance. Freshfields currently has five finance partners in the US out of roughly 80 globally but along with the other magic circle, has faced high competition on US finance products.

At Wachtell, Presser worked on QVC’s bid for Paramount and and Morgan Stanley’s acquisition of TransMontaigne as well as acting on Kinder Morgan’s leveraged buyout.

Douglas adds expertise in syndicated and general bank finance transactions in the US and helps strengthen the US leveraged finance capability in London.

Finance head David Trott said: “Douglas represents the first step towards achieving our ambition to build a more enhanced corporate and leveraged finance practice in the US.”

In recent months the flow of finance talent has more typically been from the magic circle to the US, with Freshfields losing high-yield head Gil Strauss to Weil Gotshal & Manges two years ago. Strauss had originally moved to Freshfields from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in July 2010, which took him back last month (21 August 2014).

Freshfields appointed founding US litigation group partner Adam Siegel as its new regional managing partner in March (12 March 2014).

He said: “Douglas’ deep experience in US-based acquisition finance provides a natural fit for our global financial investor clients and provides yet another way the US-based team can now help those clients. Presser brings to us the business experience of a private equity principal combined with decades of experience counselling on the world’s most important mergers and acquisitions.”

The landmark hires follow another major US hire for the firm earlier this year in London, when Freshfields took on former Cleary Gotlieb Steen & Hamilton capital markets and US corporate partner Ash Qureshi (9 April 2014).

In recent years the recruitment focus of Freshfields in the US has primarily been on litigation, where it has been beefing up its white collar and banking litigation might.

Last year it added to that with the hire of Department of Justice (DoJ) former acting criminal division head Matthew Friedrich as a partner in its Washington DC base, bringing the number of litigation partners in the US to 16 and white collar partners to six (10 April 2013).