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Leadership: managing partner candidates emerge as Freshfields elections loom

With next year being David Aitman’s final period as global managing partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer,  two partners are emerging as standout candidates to take on the management of one of the world’s largest and powerful law firms.

Two veteran partners separately cited City disputes head Chris Pugh and Berlin-based antitrust partner Helmut Bergmann as front-runners to take on the managing partner role when the firm focuses on its core leadership team in earnest in the spring.

The senior partner role is also up for grabs, as incumbent Will Lawes previously said he would only stand for one term. Head of corporate Edward Braham is the leading candidate for the role.

The senior partner role, which will go to a full partnership vote, will be key in deciding the managing partner brief as the incoming senior partner has traditionally appointed the managing partner directly at Freshfields.

Braham is currently seen as the clear standout candidate to secure the senior partner role, though it is unclear whether other rivals will emerge. Lawes had secured the role in 2010 in a contest against chief executive Ted Burke. Burke was subsequently named managing partner, though stood down from his role in 2013, with competition veteran Aitman stepping in.

Both Pugh and Bergmann have strong credentials, with Pugh enjoying strong backing in London having helped to build up the firm’s highly-rated disputes practice, while Bergmann has US experience and continental European support. Pugh has headed the global disputes team since 2009 but will step down at the beginning of next year. Current financial institutions disputes head David Scott will succeed Pugh, who has been at the firm for nearly 24 years.

One partner commented: ‘[Pugh] has been heading the disputes team for years and years and knows how to manage and run a team. Him as managing partner would work well.’

Competition specialist Bergmann also comes highly recommended. He was made up to partner at legacy German firm Deringer Tessin Hermann & Sedemund in 1996, having first joined the firm in its Cologne office as a trainee in 1987. He also has leadership experience, acting as managing partner of the Berlin office from 1998 until 2006, and as co-head of the firm’s global antitrust, competition and trade group from 2006 until 2010. At present, he is a member of the firm’s partner recommendation committee.

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if Helmut got it,’ said another London-based partner. ‘He has always been one of our fantastic lawyers with great client relationships.’