Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has named its first female leader, appointing Georgia Dawson as senior partner to press ahead with the London-based law firm’s push into the US market.
Ms Dawson, current Asia managing partner, will replace Edward Braham in January after an election process that was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
She will be supported by global client partner Alan Mason, Brussels-based competition partner Rafique Bachour and corporate partner Rick van Aerssen, who will each become co-managing partners to replace Stephan Eilers.
Ms Dawson’s appointment will make her one of the few female leaders of an international law firm, the upper echelons of which are still largely male-dominated.
Freshfields, one of the UK’s elite cadre of ‘magic circle’ law firms who work on the City’s top deals, was set to appoint both positions earlier in the year after a partnership vote but pushed back the date after a year spent battling the impact of Covid-19.
Freshfields — whose top echelon of partners took home an average £1.8m in profits last year — was forced to hold back payouts to partners to shore up cash when the pandemic hit. The firm and its rivals have come under pressure in recent months as a result of a slowdown in dealmaking among its clients, which include some of the UK’s largest companies.
The new leadership team will be tasked with expanding the firm’s push into the coveted US market, which the firm and its magic circle rivals have struggled to break into.
Freshfields hired a four-partner team from US rival Cleary Gottlieb last year including Google adviser Ethan Klingsberg, and launched a Silicon Valley office in July.
Ms Dawson said the firm’s “investment in strengthening and deepening our global platform has led to expansion into new markets such as Silicon Valley, creating an exciting foundation for future growth”.
However, the firm has suffered high-profile departures to aggressive US outfits offering more generous remuneration than its own more restrictive “lockstep” system, which ties pay to seniority.
Freshfields’ pay structure is understood to have been a point of discussion during the election process. Any tweak — such as more flexibility to reward top-performing lawyers — would follow an overhaul in 2017 that enabled top fee earners to earn as much as five times the amount of junior colleagues.
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