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Glass ceiling finally shattered for Magic Circle as Freshfields elects female senior partner

While the upper echelon of City law has seen senior female leaders before in Penelope Warne at CMS, Sonya Leydecker at Herbert Smith and Lovells’ Lesley McDonagh before them, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has beaten Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Linklaters to the punch by electing the first-ever woman to a top leadership role in the Magic Circle. The firm today (24 September) announced it has elected Asia disputes head Georgia Dawson as its new senior partner. 

And as has long been rumouredthe new senior partner will head up a reconfigured leadership team, including the hotly-tipped Alan Mason and Rick van Aerssen, as well as Rafique Bachour. 

Dawson will take over from Edward Braham, who has in recent months been credited for throwing his weight behind the firm’s crucial US strategy, while the rest of the leadership team will be in lieu of the managing partner role currently held by Stephan Eilers. The new leadership will take the helm in January 2021. 

This will be a welcome, progressive move as Freshfields becomes the first of its direct peers to elect a female senior partner, especially in light of the firm’s recent struggles with unedifying #MeToo publicity. 

Bachour was not a name bandied about as a favourite in the early stages of the firm’s election process, but the rationale of having a Brussels-based antitrust partner in a leadership role in the current climate is plain to see. 

Meanwhile Mason has long been touted as a front-runner with appeal to various constituencies and, given he is spending around 50% of his time in the US, is a credible choice given Freshfields lofty American investments and ambitions.  

Van Aerssen, the Frankfurt-based M&A lawyer who is currently head of global transactions until Julian Pritchard takes over in November for four years, is an influential continental partner who enjoys a strong profile in London and is noted for his work supporting the expansion of Freshfields’ US practice. 

The main surprise in the election outcome was no mention of Helmut Bergmann, the Berlin-based managing partner of continental Europe that was so frequently cited in the months leading up to the election as a future progressive leader. 

Braham described the leadership team as ‘highly regarded’ and ‘dynamic.’ 

Dawson commented: ‘With this team we have broad experience and a diversity of perspectives, and a shared purpose and vision for Freshfields. We intend to preserve the very best of our culture, marketleading practices and standards of client service, while leading the firm into the next chapter of its long history. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Edward and Stephan for their commitment to the firm over many years and particularly during their term of leadership. Their investment in strengthening and deepening our global platform has led to expansion into new markets such as Silicon Valley, creating an exciting foundation for future growth.’ 

For more on Freshfields at a leadership crossroads, see: ‘The devil you know – the two visions for Freshfields’ (£)