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Q&A: Alan Mason – Freshfields ‘rest of continental Europe’ managing partner on Brexit, cross border M&A and more

Following his appointment as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s first regional managing partner for the ‘rest of continental Europe’ – for offices excluding Germany, Austria and central and eastern Europe – Paris-based corporate partner Alan Mason (pictured) speaks with Madeleine Farman about his plans to shape the role.

Why was a separate managing partner needed for offices such as Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Madrid?

It’s a question of bringing the business together. That’s what our clients are telling us. In this market segment we’re seeing a shift away from the country-by-country approach. Our clients are looking at investment opportunities or risks that they’re worrying about on a regional basis.

Why Freshfields?

I spent my first day back at the firm in 1995 as a summer student, so it’s been a few years since I’ve been asked that question. At the time I wanted to find a firm that was very well-known and credible in London, but also in France. I’m fighting in the European corner now, not just in the French corner, but before I took on this role in every interaction I’ve had with the firm it’s always been very clear that the firm’s leadership has been incredibly internationally minded.

Have you ever thought of moving firms?

I did a summer placement in a number of different firms, I trained at Freshfields and I’ve been here ever since. Choices of firms can be quite a personal matter depending on who you work with, the type of work you do, the types of clients you work for, but everything I’ve looked for in my career I’ve always found at Freshfields.

What’s been the reaction to Brexit in continental Europe?

Anyone who’s predicting things now with any degree of certainty is quite brave. We would say that having a strong European presence, which is not just focused in one particular country or one particular market, means we’re incredibly well placed to help our clients as they navigate this next market event which is as challenging, or perhaps more challenging, than the financial crisis.

Where are the opportunities in continental Europe?

When you look at it from the outside you could think Eurozone crisis, low growth, but it is an exciting place at the moment for foreign investors and this is before we know what the full impact of Brexit will be. You have excellent worldwide groups headquartered in Europe so people are trying to invest. You have human capital, we have a very well trained workforce. You also have some great groups that want to expand themselves internationally. When you’re thinking about Europe and investing into Europe, you need to think beyond the country where the investment is made, you look at the region and what that group can do on the world stage.

What does it take to build a successful cross-border M&A team?

You need to have the right people; good client lawyers in the right places. That doesn’t mean you need a leading practitioner in every single market for a client to call. That simply would not work because we see the volume of deals in the M&A market in certain countries. In effect what you’re doing in your office, you should be able to do anywhere in Europe.