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Herbert Smith Freehills’ heavyweight misses out on management post after elections

Herbert Smith Freehills‘ (HSF) partnership vote for its global partnership council has revealed the firm’s post-merger dynamics, with prominent corporate partner James Palmer missing out on a seat, which instead was secured by Sydney-based M&A partner Mark Crean.

Three spots were available on the council, which is led by London-based senior partner Jonathan Scott. One place was designated for an EMEA (excluding UK) partner, which Madrid-based Nicolás Martín – head of private equity in Spain and co-head of corporate – took, while another was reserved for Asia, with Hong Kong litigator Gareth Thomas elected. That saw Palmer entering into the contest for the final position with a pool of candidates from the UK and Australia.

The set-up meant that two legacy Freehills partners in Australia were pitted against six legacy Herbert Smith partners from London, the firm’s two largest regions.

Palmer, widely viewed as HSF’s top M&A lawyer, was the most prominent Herbert Smith candidate with 28 years at the firm and having led its global equity capital markets practice between 2005 and 2010, before a two-year stint as global head of corporate. He came up against London-based finance partner Gary Hommel and competition partner Stephen Wisking, both of whom also lost out.

Deputy senior partner Crean obtained the majority in a preferential voting system to secure reappointment to the council. He took up his position alongside Martín and Thomas in August.

Sydney-based M&A lawyer Al Donald was the only other Australia-based partner in the running but failed to be reappointed to the council, which was reduced from 12 to ten members this summer following a post-merger transitional period.

One senior HSF partner told Legal Business: ‘With so many people from the UK in the running, the north vote was split. The south vote was only split between two Australian partners, giving them an advantage. James had a rough time as head of corporate and that may have been an issue.’