This British magic circle firm provides a breath of fresh air for anyone looking to join its rapidly growing US arm and “entrepreneurial” environment.
To declare that Freshfields US has grown in recent years is an understatement. “We’ve hired 28 lateral partners over the past three years – that's 40% of our US partnership,” says partner Paul Tiger. “Our firm has undergone a tremendous amount of change over these years, and the people who have joined us have done so to build something new. In October 2019, we had 149 lawyers, now we have over 300.”
“...we don’t see the magic circle firms as our competitors.”
Those stats say it all and indicate that Freshfields is one Brit export that is resolutely determined to crack the US market. Don’t go mixing Freshfields up with its UK magic circle peers though: “In the US we don’t see the magic circle firms as our competitors. We’re opposite all of the top-tier US firms in cases and transactions and are competing with them for work. We have been adding people from those same top firms to pair an elite US practice with a phenomenal global network,” Tiger tells us.
There’s an array of Chambers USA accolades to back up this BigLaw bravado, with our sister publication awarding Freshfields US top-tier nationwide nods in areas like international arbitration, corporate crime and investigations, and international trade. In New York, Freshfields’ M&A prowess stands out, while its burgeoning practice in Silicon Valley currently receives praise for its securities litigation and capital markets know-how. DC is the office to head to if antitrust and white-collar crime work appeals.
Strategy & Future
“The firm in the US is very much strategically focused on the clients and industries that will be dominating the world in the next five years, such as tech and life sciences,” partner Andrea Basham tells us. On the tech front, Basham points to the opening of the Silicon Valley office in 2020: “It was built by all-star lawyers in that market and that office works seamlessly with our other US practices.”
“...it’s in these moments that the demand for clever lawyers increases.”
Commenting on the market in general, Paul Tiger explains that “we seem to be in a period of volatility and the inflationary environment has caused people to pause. But it’s in these moments that the demand for clever lawyers increases.” Freshfields not only wants clever lawyers in its ranks, but it wants to keep as many of them as it possibly can: “We have been able to develop new training programs that are more modern than those at other firms. We have a commitment to retention because we’re growing,” says Basham. “We’ve had the good fortune over the last few years in that if we’ve lost folks, they’ve gone in-house rather than to a competitor, and very few at that.”
Freshfields’ New York hub was home to most of the associates on our list, but the firm’s DC and Silicon Valley offices also took on a handful each. The firm’s broad dispute resolution and global transactions departments held the most juniors, but there was still a fair few honing their skills in areas such as antitrust and people and rewards. We heard that each sub-group within these broad departments has some kind of formal mechanism in place to monitor and assign work, whether that was in the form of an availability tracker or a staffing attorney. “It takes the pressure off people,” said one source. “You have the ability to say ‘no’ to a staffing attorney, plus they find us cover when we’re on vacation; ask us whether we want to try new deals; and get us any help we need within 24 hours.”
Freshfields’ global transactions department is split into sub-groups like corporate M&A, corporate life sciences, finance, and capital markets. On the M&A side, “we do a lot of work with manufacturing and food conglomerates,” a source told us. “I’m often the lead associate, coordinating and drafting documents – it’s my deal to run.” We also heard that the corporate department’s “trying to build a niche in medical technology and digital health work – that's where the business development opportunities are, and we write articles and blog posts to try to get more of that work.” Capital markets interviewees explained that “you get a range of debt and equity work, including IPOs. You end up with experience working with companies across the world that are considering listings.”
Corporate clients: Google, eBay, Ericsson. Advised the latter on its $6.2 billion acquisition of Vonage.
The dispute resolution department, meanwhile, is split between litigation and arbitration work. “It’s a global leader,” declared one junior, commenting on Freshfields’ standing in the international arbitration space. “We advise private companies and states in international investment disputes that have arisen from bilateral investment treaties. We also advise on commercial disputes before tribunals under the International Chamber of Commerce rules.” Interviewees were also excited to tell us that “we have a big focus on Latin America – we work on many cases there where foreign investors are in dispute with the US.” Being able to draft sections of briefs was described as a highlight: “That kind of work has been really engaging for me, as has being able to attend witness interviews and draft requests for arbitrations. I grow alongside the case.”
International arbitration clients: ConocoPhillips Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Latin American Regional Aviation Holding. Representing commodity trading and mining company Glencore Group during an ICSID arbitration claim brought against the Republic of Colombia.
After onboarding a number of laterals recently, sources told us that the firm is more focused on retention than ever. “The firm recently hired a talent development head and formed a dedicated talent development department. They’re touring the offices to meet us all and have confidential professional development chats.” On the junior side, “we have regular CLEs on different topics, as well as weekly sessions in my department where we’ll cover important provisions in agreements.” In addition, “I don’t know of any firm that involves juniors in as much business development work as we do. I’ve seen juniors involved in client pitches and we’re encouraged to speak on panels and write blog posts.”
“Everyone has been moving around in BigLaw lately – they were moving to us!”
Sources also liked the firm’s mentorship program, “where you’re paired with a senior associate or counsel – they provide a safe space for you to ask for advice. You get a new mentor every year, but you can continue the relationship with your previous mentor anyway!” Partners were also praised for “not being disconnected – they’re very open about career development and involved.” This interviewee was happy with the support they were receiving as they made the transition from junior to midlevel: “They’re giving me more substantive roles in deals and the first pass to respond to a client on an issue.” Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, as this source made clear: “I think it tells you something about the culture that nobody has wanted to leave. Everyone has been moving around in BigLaw lately – they were moving to us!”
If there’s one word consistently on Freshfields associates’ lips, it’s “entrepreneurial.” This source explained that “we have this unbelievable history and standard to live up to, but we’re also looking at ways we can do things differently and stay ahead of the curve.” Associates were eager to point out that their US bases “don’t feel anything like satellite offices – we’re building something big in the US market and we won’t stop until we’re number one.”
“...there's always at least three to five dogs running around!”
Behind this entrepreneurial drive is a desire to “make this firm better and more sustainable for employees while still delivering excellent client service.” Building up the firm’s presence in the US is also about cultural fit, we heard: “When we’re looking to bring in laterals, a candidate may have a great resume but if they don’t fit into the culture we don’t need them. Here we have a culture where people have each other’s backs. If you need help you’re going to get it. We’re a social bunch and we like to know who we’re working with!” This social vibe was evident in the Silicon Valley office, too: “Everyone is interested in getting to know you and hanging out. People are open about bringing a bit of their personal lives into the office. Plus, we have a very dog-friendly office – there's always at least three to five dogs running around!”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
The no-requirement billing policy was appreciated by juniors, with one telling us that “the absence of target pressure means you can immerse yourself in the work without anxiety. If a partner asks me to do something non-billable, it's fine as it all benefits the firm.” Lockstep bonuses were described as “a very clean approach” that gave associates transparency: “Unless you’re doing something terrible, you’re getting your bonus.” A transactional source said that aiming to bill between 1,800 and 1,900 hours a year was recommended, “but you don’t have to worry because there’s always enough work. Last year I was billing a lot and a partner called me to take it easier!”
“I find it’s good to be around people.”
Day-to-day, juniors deal with the realities of global BigLaw: “Every day is different, and the hours depend on the client – especially if there’s a cross-border element.” Some sources had been putting in between 50 and 60 hours a week and said that they liked “the variety, but it can be unpredictable!” The hybrid system at Freshfields encourages people to come into the office three days per week, “but it’s not a hard rule. I find it’s good to be around people and it does benefit those who are just starting their careers.”
“With no billable minimum, they put forward a lot of pro bono opportunities for us and celebrate our successes,” a junior was pleased to tell us. Weekly emails showcase “available matters and the level of associate they are looking for,” another source informed us. While it can be “harder to find something that matches our skill set on the transactional side,” these juniors had nonetheless taken advantage of the “rare chance to do some litigation-type work on asylum cases.” These provided a great sense of accomplishment for our sources: “We represent LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking asylum from their countries. These people are so happy to get our help and it makes me feel a lot better than closing a deal.” Freshfields has partnered up with the International Refugee Assistance Project, the Legal Aid Society of New York, and the American Bar Association to work on cases covering animal welfare, public housing rights, and medical assistance matters under the Medicaid Act.
Pro bono hours:
- For all US offices: 27,030
- Average per attorney: 78
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“The diverse talent market is tough, so the firm knows that to keep diverse people they need to use more than just money and performative language – they really are creating a culture that is inclusive,” an associate told us. Another felt that “there is a welcoming environment here” and went on to tell us about the prominence of Freshfields’ affinity groups: “During the recruitment process they explained to me the purpose of the affinity groups and the targets that they have. The groups help to create an inclusive workplace and they allow members to meet people outside of their practice group who they share affinities with. They also provide a safe space for you to share your ideas and grow within the firm.”
“It’s a safe place and partners celebrate your uniqueness!”
“There are a lot of women working in the M&A space,” a source noted, “and we have racial diversity as well.” Efforts on this front were described as “a work in progress,” with Freshfields implementing a target to double the number of its Black associates by 2026. We repeatedly heard how the firm’s international dimensions foster a sense of inclusion: “We have a lot of folks who aren’t from the US and speak a lot of different languages and it’s awesome!” Others commented on how people have paintings and other objects in the office that “represent their culture and personality. It makes the office far less sterile and people love the expression of individuality. It’s a safe place and partners celebrate your uniqueness!”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 932
Freshfields annually visits all of the T14 law schools plus Albany, Fordham, Georgetown and McGill in Canada. A mix of partners and counsel speak to between 20 and 80 students at each.
Empathy with clients, commercial awareness, and being able to fit into a team are also essential attributes in a candidate, along with the academic criteria typical to BigLaw.
Top tips for this stage:
“A common thread amongst us is that we’re all uninterested in doing something standard or run of the mill. I wanted to do something different, something interesting. I thought that this was going to be an avenue to achieve that and get unique work opportunities that I wouldn’t have elsewhere.” – a second-year junior associate
“The firm likes the prestige of certain law schools – the top 14. There are differing views across partners, but those big schools are going give an advantage over other applicants.” – a second-year junior associate
Candidates meet a handful of partners, counsels and associates. Social events are also weaved into the process. No surprises and the people are really nice.
A ten-week summer at Freshfields includes various formal training sessions, mentoring, pro bono opportunities, and cultural and social events. Most important, of course, is the legal work itself – assigned through the firm’s work allocation team to ensure that summers get a range of experience.
The 2022 summer program will take on 48 2L summer associates across the New York, DC, and Silicon Valley offices.
Top tips for this stage:
“What got me into Freshfields over other British firms is the people. There’s a real effort to find the people who really want to be here, specifically. We’re not a firm or office that have 150 summers and take 30. The effect is you have a bunch of people working towards common goal, which I really enjoy.” – a second-year junior associate
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
601 Lexington Avenue,
Main areas of work
Freshfields’ US offices concentrate on corporate and finance transactions, restructuring and insolvency, antitrust, tax, litigation and international arbitration.
Freshfields has over 300 lawyers in the US, including 61 partners, with offices in New York, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC. The US lawyers collaborate with their colleagues in 25 offices around the world. Our US lawyers are internationally recognized as leaders in their respective fields.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022:
BC/BU Job Fair, Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Mason (ACT), Georgetown, GW, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law, McGill, Michigan, NEBLSA Fair, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Stanford, University of Texas, UC Hastings, UCLA, USC, UVA, Vanderbilt Job Fair, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Students who do not attend one of the law schools at which we conduct on campus interviews are welcome to submit their materials for consideration.
Summer associate profile:
Freshfields recruits lawyers with many different talents and values individuality. The firm’s ability to offer diverse skills locally and across international borders ensures clients have the very best advice possible. Freshfields operates a summer program for US law students in its New York, Washington, DC, Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, and London offices.
Summer program components:
Freshfields’ summer program provides summer associates with exposure to several practice areas. Summer associates get substantive work supported by both formal and informal mentors. All US summer associates have the opportunity to visit one of Freshfields overseas offices during the summer program.
Recruitment website: freshfields.com/en-us/careers/united-states/united-states-careers/
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 5)
USA - Nationwide
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 1)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 4)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 3)