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Herbert Smith Freehills to have a new CEO next year as Bell and Willis step down

David Willis and Gavin Bell, joint chief executive officers at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), have announced today (24 September) that they will step down from their roles next Spring.

Willis’ term as managing partner was expected to end in April this year but he agreed to a one-year extension following the merger of Herbert Smith and Freehills last autumn. Bell has been managing partner of Freehills since 1995 but due to serious health issues earlier this year, from which he has fully recovered, he has decided to step down and spend more time with his family.

‘David and Gavin are two of the principal architects of the merger. We are hugely appreciative of their outstanding work in the period leading up to the merger and they have been very successful and effective joint CEOs. That the transitional management structure more broadly has worked well is in no small way down to their contributions,’ said Jonathan Scott, senior partner of HSF.

The HSF global council, the firm’s governance body, will decide whether Willis and Bell will be replaced by a single CEO or whether the role will continue to be undertaken jointly. The decision is then subject to partner ratification in a process that will be completed by the end of 2014. The firm would not speculate on potential candidates for the role, although one of the names mentioned to Legal Business at this early stage is intellectual property partner Mark Shillito.

There is still plenty for Willis and Bell to do before handing over the reins. HSF is currently in the middle of a significant transitional phase post-merger and has seen a string of high-profile exits in recent months, including Ted Greeno to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Will Pearce to Davis Polk and Kevin Lloyd to Debevoise & Plimpton.

The firm is also reviewing its remuneration system in order to comprehensively integrate the financial systems at the two legacy firms. This process should be completed by the start of the next financial year, in time for the new CEO(s) to take over the firm’s leadership.