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Sailing for Boston – Freshfields’ managing partner quits to join US buyout house

One of the most respected law firm leaders in the City has called it a day ahead of time with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s managing partner Ted Burke today (30 September) confirming his decision to leave the Magic Circle firm. The move, which sees Burke stand down a year early, was announced internally today.

The US lawyer will depart the City giant after 15 years to return to his native Boston as general counsel and chief operating officer of US private equity house ArcLight Capital. Burke’s role as managing partner will be assumed by competition partner David Aitman until the managing partner role goes to a vote again in 2015.

Burke will leave Freshfields early in the New Year, depriving the firm of one of the most highly rated law firm leaders in the business. Burke’s near eight years in Freshfields’ C-suite saw the firm through a major partnership shake-up and a controversial overhaul of its pension scheme. The firm was the only one of London’s ‘big four’ magic circle firms to avoid a major restructuring during 2009 and is regarded by many as the most strongly positioned of the four elite firms.

Burke joined Freshfields in 1998 from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy and became the firm’s US managing partner in 2002, becoming chief executive in 2006.

Burke had stood as senior partner in 2010 in a contested election against the ultimate victor Will Lawes but went on to take on the managing partner role, recasting the chief executive brief he had held.

The increasingly cosmopolitan Freshfields is maintaining its form for being headed by ‘outsiders’ with Aitman himself having joined the firm from Denton Wilde Sapte in 2001. He has previously held prominent roles in the firm having co-headed its global antitrust practice between 2006 and 2010. Aitman, who was appointed following a nomination from Lawes, is also currently the senior elected member of Freshfields’ partnership council – its primary oversight body.

Lawes in a statement commented: ‘I am obviously personally very sad that [Burke] is returning to the US. The firm owes much of its recent success to his strategic guidance and courageous leadership. In David Aitman we have a hugely respected and wise partner, with a deep understanding of our business and culture.’

Burke told Legal Business: ‘I’ve known the people at ArcLight for 20 years and this was just a fantastic opportunity.’