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Six partners to exit Freshfields this month as finance restructure takes effect

Six finance partners will leave Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer at the end of this month, with two more to leave the equity while the Magic Circle law firm implements a restructure of its finance practice.

Legal Business has chosen not to name the five City partners and one New York partner who will leave the firm at the end of April, including three London partners whose exits come as result of the recent rejig of the Magic Circle firm’s practice. Finance has about 34 partners in London and more than 70 globally.

Two others – one in New York and another in London – are to give up equity partner status in April but it is understood they will remain with the firm in other roles.

In addition to the eight which leave the partnership this financial year, two partner exits from the London practice are expected for April 2018. Another finance partner in Asia, who has already left the firm, was also affected by the recalibration.

Though there are a number of reasons behind the departures, Legal Business understands that at least three partners are being explicitly managed out as part of the shake-up of Freshfields’ finance practice, which has focused its practice more heavily on deal finance.

The exits also include London’s sole aviation finance partner Rob Murphy, who joins China Development Bank’s aircraft leasing unit CDB Aviation Lease Finance as its general counsel and chief operating officer. His team of associates has joined Holland & Knight. Without a natural successor to Murphy, who was due to retire from the firm, Freshfields effectively pulled out of the aviation finance sector.

Finance head Simon Johnson (pictured) said: ‘We had a strategic review in 2016 and have refocused our product offering. This review has resulted in some associated changes within the partner group. We are confident that our practice is well placed for the next phase of its development. The hire of the five-partner team from Ashurst in Paris reflects the firm’s confidence and faith in the finance practice, as do the two promotions in London and Frankfurt this year.’

In 2015 Freshfields began the ‘recalibration’ of its finance practice, which saw leveraged finance split into its own team, giving the department four groups.

The process has coincided with the firm putting some finance partners on its second-tier lockstep, a model brought in more than two years ago. Those partners from Freshfields’ finance practice now join partners in Japan and Germany, and practices such as IP and employment on the second ladder, which runs from 10-30 points and sits alongside the traditional 17.5-50-point ladder.

Freshfields is not the only Magic Circle firm rethinking its investment in finance. Earlier this month Legal Business revealed Linklaters has reviewed equity points in its banking practice, making some managed changes to point distribution. Around six exits, roughly half of which are retirements, are expected from the practice in coming months, while four new banking partners were elected in the firm’s last promotions round. The firm has close to 100 banking partners globally, with around 40 in London.

Read more: ‘Recasting finance at Freshfields: high ambition married with gently lowered expectations’