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Buyout star Adrian Maguire to join Kirkland in body blow to Freshfields

One of the most touted private equity names in the City, Adrian Maguire, has quit Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to join Kirkland & Ellis just over a year after his former colleague David Higgins made the same move.

Freshfields-bred and regarded as a loyalist to the firm, Maguire is leaving the Magic Circle outfit after more than two decades in what will be seen as a notable setback for its attempts to limit the damage of Higgins’ $10m move in December 2017.

For Kirkland it is another significant step forward in its attempts to bulk up its European M&A firepower. Clients of the highly-regarded Maguire include Cinven, Carlyle and Advent International.

The US firm, which last year became the highest grossing in the world as turnover hit $3.165bn, recently made another step in this direction, recruiting a corporate duo from Linklaters to launch its second continental base in Paris.

The firm’s profit per equity partner now sits at $4.7m, giving it the chance to offer huge packages to marquee deal partners.

Coupled with the hire of Higgins, Maguire’s move also sees the Chicago-based giant turn to more mainstream deal advisers, a move reflected in the anointment of Jon Ballis as chair, who is expected to usher a more consensual style than current chair Jeffrey Hammes when he takes over in 2020.

A spokesperson for Freshfields said: ‘Adrian has been a valued friend and colleague over the course of his career with us and we wish him all the best in his new role. We have had a phenomenal year advising clients in 2018, and the strength and depth of our private equity practice is second to none. Adrian’s departure does not change that.’

Maguire took a six-month sabbatical from Freshfields from June to November last year, and a partner at the Magic Circle firm pointed out that the team had its best year ever despite Maguire’s absence. Highly-rated players still at the firm include partner Charles Hayes.

Yet the symbolism of the move for the City legal scene is hard to overstate. If even a Magic Circle loyalist like Maguire can be persuaded to switch to a US rival, fresh questions will be raised about the London elite’s ability to retain key talent. Freshfields had in 2017 gone through a shake-up of its partnership designed to help it keep its star partners from the clutches of higher-paying US rivals. This latest departures suggests it was too little, too late.

For more on Kirkland & Ellis’ meteoric rise, see ‘Wrecking ball’ (£)