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‘There are no “diet-coke” partnerships at Freshfields’: Barry O’Brien on a new career at Jefferies

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer former corporate head Barry O’Brien last month (31 March) hung up his Magic Circle boots to move into a client development role at US investment bank Jefferies. Before joining, the former rugby playing high flyer spoke to Legal Business about diet coke partnerships, retirement, and moving away from the Magic Circle.

Why did you decide to join Jefferies?

Having retired last October, I had a number of conversations about what to do next and Jefferies suggested a role as chairman of their European M&A and corporate finance group, which I have no doubt will be fun.

What does the new role entail?

Essentially relationship management and client development. Jefferies has a lot of FTSE 250-350 clients where I can hopefully add some real value.

Many partners at large international law firms start reviewing their career options around age 50. You stayed an extra 10 years. How was the last decade?

I enjoyed my partnership until the very last moment but you do need the energy and commitment to carry on. There are no “diet-coke” partnerships at Freshfields – it’s full fat or nothing.

What has been your biggest achievement?

Without doubt helping to build the best group of junior corporate partners in the City – they are a fantastic bunch!

What was your most memorable job?

The rescue of Lloyd’s of London in the mid-1990s – probably still the biggest job the firm has undertaken in terms of manpower.

How difficult is it to make partner in the current market?

It has never been easy to make it to partnership but there is no doubt that every firm is raising the bar and in some cases turning down some exceptional candidates if the business case can’t be made out.

Where do you see Freshfields in 10 years-time?

The firm will maintain its position as one of the global elite – and we will have a first-class US practice.

What advice would you give to the next generation?

Be yourself and avoid the pressure to conform to the norm – all the great lawyers are their own men and women.