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Freshfields makes real estate partner Johnson global finance head

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has appointed real estate finance partner Simon Johnson as its new global head of finance following a ‘recalibration’ of its finance team.

Johnson will replace real estate finance partner David Trott who will return to client work after a four year term.

Appointed by senior partner Edward Braham following a consultation within the finance practice,  Johnson has a wide range of experience advising banks and other financial institutions, sponsors, investors and corporations of real estate finance transactions. He trained at the firm and has previously held the role of graduate recruitment partner.

Johnson told Legal Business his priority would be to bed in the firm’s DCM and high-yield investments, and emphasis the international aspect of the firm’s finance practice.

‘That’s our real trump card. The international nature of the firm and the practice is crucial and I want to drive closer integration, and have more depth in our relationships. We want clients to trust two to three partners in the practice,’ Johnson said.

The shift will see more turbulence for the Magic Circle firm’s real estate finance practice which in June saw Jeffrey Rubinoff move to White & Case.

The appointment follows a ‘recalibration’ of Freshfields’ finance department made in May, which saw the firm create a separate leveraged finance group to give the practice four departments.

The firm broke its lockstep last year, bringing in heavy hitting high yield partner Ward McKimm from Kirkland & Ellis. His hire came after the firm pushed through provisions to allow it to pay a small band of recruits over the top of its City lockstep, primarily to back strategic recruitment in US law.

McKimm now heads up leveraged finance alongside co-head Alex Mitchell, while the rest of banking and treasury has now moved into the corporate finance team headed up by Martin Hutchings. Former Shearman & Sterling partner Tim Pick now leads the energy, transport and infrastructure finance team, while restructuring and insolvency is now led by Richard Tett.

Financially, Freshfields was the standout performer of the Magic Circle for 2015/16 in a muted year for City firms. The firm unveiled a 7% revenue increase from £1.245bn to £1.327bn, while profits per equity partner (PEP) now stand at £1.473m, an increase of 8% on last year’s figure of £1.37m.

For more on finance practices in the City see: ‘Golden goodbyes – changing faces and fortunes at the City’s top banking teams’

For more on Freshfields management see: ‘The last champions – meet the leaders intent on sealing Freshfields’ place in the global elite’