Freshfields turns to former lawyers to fill fee-earning gaps

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is rolling out a scheme to tap into its alumni network as a way of sourcing fee-earning staff at busy periods.

Kevin Hogarth
Kevin Hogarth

The magic circle firm has launched a programme, entitled ‘Freshfields Continuum’, under which former partners and associates can work for the firm on flexible contracts when it experiences high demand.

Alumni will be brought in to work on matters such as large due diligence and litigation, advisory research tasks and, occasionally, filling a client secondment gap. Some will also fill a gap in a transaction, but the firm said alumni were unlikely to take front-line roles negotiating deals.

Marketing, business development, knowledge management, pitch preparation and pro bono work may also form some of the tasks given to participants.

The scheme is expected to start mostly with associate-level alumni, but some former partners could wish to participate. The launch is limited to London, but the firm will make a decision in six months on whether to expand the project to other offices.

“There’s been interest from some of our offices outside London. It would be quicker because there is effectively a template that London offers,” commented Freshfields global HR director Kevin Hogarth.

A handful of non-UK offices have already expressed interest in following London’s lead.

Those who take part will be paid hourly at four compensation levels dependent on their level of seniority when they left the firm, although there is flexibility if the lawyer’s status has significantly increase since he or she left. Lawyers will also be able to opt to carry out work at a lower level than their seniority and be paid at that lower level.

Hogarth said: “We’ve basically picked four levels – a junior lawyer, mid-level lawyer, senior lawyer and in case there any partners who want to move into this, we’ve got a partner level.”

Clients will be billed on the same basis, but the firm said it would make it clear to clients that the lawyer was on the scheme.

The idea was first mooted two years ago, with then London managing partner Tim Jones cited as a mastermind of the process (5 April 2010).

Hogarth said today: “A number of people lay claim to the proposition. Tim [Jones] was one of the partners who had the idea along with some other partners.”

The firm said the launch of Freshfields Continuum on 1 May did not point to any plans to minimise staff headcount or encourage senior partners at the top of the lockstep to opt for the scheme as a way of limiting costs to the firm.

It also said it would not rule out re-hiring alumni following a spell as a temporary fee-earner.