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‘Feels good to be bold’ – Freshfields executes on New York private capital ambitions with hire of Latham PE pair

In what will be viewed by rivals as a further shot across the bows, Freshfields has continued to make determined inroads with its US strategy, this time hiring private equity M&A partners Neal Reenan and Ian Bushner in New York from Latham & Watkins.

The investment is another coup for a firm that has become no stranger to putting its money where its mouth is on executing a bullish American strategy, and is especially striking, given the increased demand for quality private capital practitioners as client demand continues to escalate.

Reenan, who before joining Latham’s Chicago office in March 2020 had a more than 17-year stint at Kirkland & Ellis, will be joining as global co-head of private capital alongside Charles Hayes in London and Arend von Riegen in Frankfurt.

For his part, Bushner is also a Kirkland alumnus, having been a partner there for six years from April 2014, and helping to set up the Chicago powerhouse’s Boston office in 2017. He also joined Latham in March 2020 and will be head of US private capital at his new firm. Both partners will be relocating to New York to help galvanise the City stalwart’s private equity standing in that all-important financial centre.

Speaking with Legal Business, global co-head of Freshfields’ private capital group, Charles Hayes, was upbeat, describing the fruition of Freshfields’ long-sought ambition of having big PE names on the ground in New York as ‘a massive moment’ for the firm.

Hayes noted: ‘These hires put us in a unique place ahead of the rest of the group that used to be known as the Magic Circle. We were aware that there was a gap with no dedicated PE M&A team in New York, and these gentlemen provide that and build out that capability.’

He added: ‘Hiring partners previously at Kirkland and Latham, which nobody could question are our natural competitors, is a neat and logical statement of intent.’

‘It feels good to be bold and making strategic moves,’ Hayes concluded.

While Freshfields’ corporate offering in Wall Street has proved more painstaking to build than other practices, the firm in 2021 pulled off the marquee hire of Cravath M&A heavyweight Damien Zoubek to co-head its New York corporate practice alongside Ethan Klingsberg.

And Klingsberg’s 2019 hire, leading a prominent Cleary M&A team including partners Meredith Kotler, Pamela Marcogliese and Paul Tiger, is still seen as a trophy acquisition.

That was the most significant US transactional move since Freshfields made its first substantive foray into New York corporate in 2014 when it hired former Fried Frank senior partner and head of global capital markets Valerie Ford Jacob along with two other corporate partners – Michael Levitt and Paul Tropp. The arrival of Peter Lyons, Shearman & Sterling’s former global public M&A head, the same week and the willingness to pay select recruits above the top of its lockstep were signals that Freshfields meant business where some peers lacked the same courage of their convictions.