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Kirkland exits continue as high-yield heavyweight McKimm set to join Freshfields

Reversing the trend of partners departing Magic Circle firms for US rivals, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, subject to a partnership vote, is set to hire high-yield heavyweight Ward McKimm from Kirkland & Ellis.

The move would be an unusual step for the acclaimed capital markets partner who has worked at Kirkland for the past four years. He joined the firm – which posted partner profits that surpassed the $3.5m mark in 2014 – in 2011 from Shearman & Sterling after 14 years, first as an associate in 1997 after which he became partner in 2005 and co-head of its corporate group in 2010.

McKimm represents both underwriters and issuers on international securities offerings with a particular focus on high-yield transactions. At Kirkland, McKimm has advised banking and sponsor clients including BNP Paribas, UBS, and in particular, CVC Capital Partners – which is also a key client of Freshfields.

The hire constitutes arguably the most impressive name a leading City firm has yet secured in high-yield bonds, an increasingly important financing line in European deal work but one that has for years remained dominated by a small band of US law firms. McKimm is established alongside Latham & Watkins’ Richard Trobman and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s Nick Shaw as one of the leading specialists in the area currently working in the City. Freshfields had in 2010 recruited Simpson Thacher counsel Gil Strauss at partner level to drive its high yield practice but Strauss departed two years later for Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

The move comes as Freshfields last year pushed through provisions to allow it to pay a small band of recruits over the top of its lockstep, primarily to back strategic recruitment in US law. The lateral hire is yet to go through a partnership vote at Freshfields, but this will be regarded as a formality.

Freshfields is ranked third tier for its high-yield capability in The Legal 500, whereas Kirkland currently sits above in the second tier with McKimm listed as a leading individual.

Kirkland saw the exit of a trio of funds partners last week, led by Mark Mifsud, to Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson while on Monday (1 June) Proskauer Rose hired M&A partner James Howe. At the end of April, disputes partner Ulrich Payne departed for Ogier’s Cayman Islands office.