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Leadership: Herbert Smith Freehills unveils new joint CEOs

After much speculation, Herbert Smith Freehills announced today that it has appointed Sonya Leydecker (pictured) and Mark Rigotti as joint chief executive officers (CEOs).

The appointments come after a recommendation by the firm’s governance body, the council and following ratification by partners. Leydecker and Rigotti will take their positions for a term of three years after current CEOs David Willis and Gavin Bell step down on 1 May 2014.

Both Leydecker and Rigotti currently sit on the executive board and have strong reputations in both of their legacy firms. Leydecker has been Herbert Smith’s global head of disputes for almost nine years, while Rigotti led legacy Freehills banking, finance and corporate groups and is currently managing partner for clients and industries at HSF.

‘Appointing new leaders represents a further important post-merger milestone, and in Sonya and Mark we are fortunate to have two partners who will bring to the role a powerful combination of management skills, leadership ability and practice experience,’ said senior partner Jonathan Scott.These strengths will provide a strong platform on which to carry out their responsibilities and help deliver our strategy. With new leadership and strong work flows, particularly in the UK and Australia, we are excited about the prospects for 2014.’

Deputy senior partner Mark Crean added: ‘This is a terrific note on which to end what has been a strong first full calendar year for us, marked by the many opportunities we have been given to show how our enhanced capability can benefit clients.’

December has been a particularly busy month in what has been a difficult year for HSF. Earlier this month the firm finally agreed on a combined remuneration system which will see it use a global managed lockstep, although concessions were given to the legacy Freehills side to pay additional bonuses to high billers or star laterals. A statement announcing the move described this as a ‘variable, performance-related component to the system that is specific to Australia partners above a certain point in the lockstep’.

The firm has also seen a number of high-profile departures during its first year as a merged entity, particularly in disputes, with the latest being Tony Dymond leaving for the London office of Debevoise & Plimpton this week.