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Freshfields co-managing partner Pugh steps down a year and a half into role

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s joint managing partner Chris Pugh (pictured) is stepping down less than half way into his term, the second person to vacate the position early in four years and the firm’s third unscheduled c-suite departure since 2013.

Former disputes head Pugh will leave the role but remain at the firm, continuing his client-facing work. He took up the role, which carries a five-year term, in January 2016 after a three-month transition period.  

His exit leaves just two of the four strong management team who were elected to head up the Magic Circle firm in 2015. It was revealed executive partner Michael Lacovara had quit to join Latham & Watkins in June 2016.

Senior partner Edward Braham and co-managing partner Dusseldorf-based Stephan Eilers will remain on in their management roles.

In 2013, Freshfields’ managing partner Ted Burke confirmed his decision to leave the Magic Circle firm, which saw him stand down from the managing partner position a year early.

Edward Braham, Senior Partner: ‘As part of a focus on streamlining and reducing the number of hours spent on management activities, we are moving from having two managing partners to one. Chris Pugh will return to our disputes practice, where his varied skills and experience are much in demand by many of the firm’s clients across the world, and Stephan Eilers will continue as sole managing partner.’

‘We are seen by our clients as a firm that, unlike many of our competitors, is equally strong on both the contentious and non-contentious side of our practice. Our contentious practice continues to perform exceptionally well – Chris re-joining the team reinforces this strength.’

Pugh was in charge of the firm’s disputes resolution team for six years before taking up the position of joint managing partner. He initially canvassed separately from Braham in a bid to go head-to-head with the corporate veteran in the senior partner elections but the duo later decided to unite on a single platform.

Pugh and Braham took over from former senior partner Will Lawes and managing partner David Aitman.

The news follows the release of the firm’s flat turnover for 2016/17 earlier this month with a top line of £1.33bn providing an 0.3% increase. Net income also dipped by 1% to £612m, but profit per equity partner (PEP) increased by 5% to £1.55m, up from £1.47m.

The Magic Circle firm has been on a profitability drive for the past twelve months which has included a string of significant changes for the firm.

Six finance partners also left the firm at the end of April with two more losing equity status as Freshfields implemented a restructure of its finance practice. The firm completed the fit out of its low-cost services hub in Manchester which the firm opened in 2015.

The firm also offered 180 of its staff voluntary redundancy as part of a London secretarial support staff review, which reduced headcount down to around 160.

Looking ahead, Freshfields plans to cut its 103-strong German partnership by up to 20 partners by 2020. It is also expected almost a quarter of the global partnership will be on the firm’s second-tier lockstep as early as 2020.