An incredibly global firm with a relatively small US base, Freshfields may not be fresh-faced but it's certainly outward-looking...
DON'T be fooled by a name that evokes new shoots of grass: Freshfields is actually the oldest of the five elite firms that make up Britain's historic magic circle. That said, its presence in the US is still relatively fresh – it only opened its inaugural New York office in 1977, and it remains small. But as has often been the case in the city's history, if you turn up in the Big Apple with a couple of bucks and some good ideas, you can reach for the stars. Not just literally – Freshfields occupies four floors of “one of the tallest buildings in Midtown” – but also figuratively: Chambers USA recognizes its chutzpah and ranks the firm for its capital markets, international arbitration, projects and tax work.
“Many of us get to visit Europe three times in our first year.”
“We are incredibly well-integrated globally,” juniors told us. “I speak with colleagues in London and Brussels on a daily basis.” This kind of emphasis on the international is obviously a big draw and sources described as “tremendous” the fact that “many of us get to visit Europe three times in our first year.” Then there's the close relationship between New York and DC – the latter of which opened in 1998 – described by one associate as “pretty much one entity.” All of which proves that the firm's claim on its website to be 'one partnership' across borders is far from hyperbolic.
Freshfields' New York juniors are stationed in capital markets, finance, corporate and dispute resolution; while in the smaller DC office they can also find themselves in the firm's antitrust team. The popular dispute resolution group is split into three subgroups: international arbitration, investigations and civil litigation. First and second-year associates will “move between all three” and then “usually around the beginning of your third year you will start to specialize as you begin to find your niche.”
As you might expect, “all of the stuff you work on as a junior has an international aspect” with investigations involving “regulators from multiple jurisdictions.” From these multiple jurisdictions come clients of an international caliber and interviewees had handled cases for big name financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, universities, airlines and publishers. Those fearing hours and hours of “dreaded doc review” need not fear: “If you come and work at Freshfields there is no way you'll be doing doc review for two years. When there's a lot of it to be done, senior associates will always chip in.”
“Begin to find your niche.”
The corporate tree too contains multiple branches, with the department split between capital markets, finance, IP and corporate/M&A. These subgroups work closely together and, with the exception of IP – “which is tiny” – fresh-faced corporate associates may find themselves getting work from different teams, at least initially. Cross-selling is rife across all departments but none more so than in corporate where “different subgroups will most often be working on particular aspects of one huge deal.” One such mammoth deal has been the acquisition of the world's second-largest brewer by the first-largest. Freshfields took the lead on Anheuser-Busch's $100 billion purchase of SABMiller and pulled in every corporate hand in the firm.
Work on this most frothy of deals saw corporate sources “running due diligence, reviewing contracts and drafting ancillary documents.” Over in antitrust – or “antitrust, competition and trade, to give it its proper name" – “we've been working for a year doing merger control on the deal.” Outside of that, the team deals mostly with Fortune 500 companies, though there's a “growing niche working with private equity firms.”
Assignment used to be “informal across the board,” and in most smaller teams it still usually just involves “a conversation or email.” However, in New York, after some minor grumblings, the system has been reformed – “we now have an email distribution list and when a new assignment comes in it will go to people on the list. We also have an Excel spreadsheet into which we put our weekly hours; assigning partners will look at this when deciding who to approach about work.” This system ensures associates don't become over-burdened.
Sources believed that Freshfields's culture was more than a little bit influenced by the firm's European heritage – “I think people are more open-minded here about interacting with other cultures. And, especially in New York, I think it makes it a little bit less aggressive.” That said, the office's cosmopolitan feel is no secret – indeed it's what attracted many to the firm in the first place. “There are always lawyers here on secondment from all over the world and they aren't just sitting in a corner: they are fully integrated into the work.”
On top of this, juniors are trusted with high-level tasks from early on: “The partners trust us to work stuff out for ourselves. Also, because a lot of the US groups are quite small, you're given a lot of responsibility. At times it can feel like too much!”
What there could be more of are firm-organized social events. “Obviously during the summer there are loads of events: we go to dinner at a swanky restaurant and then out to a Broadway show [Hamilton]; we even go on a fishing trip to Brooklyn. No one catches much fish but it's great fun.” But other than that, there's only really “the Christmas party and the occasional happy hour.” Nonetheless, the relative paucity of organized fun belies a place where “everyone gets on really well, office doors are kept open and you'll often have seniors stroll into your office for a chat.”
Training & Development
It may be that management keep its powder dry for the firm's regular global gatherings – “when it comes to international conferences and training opportunities, Freshfields really put its money where its mouth is.” Juniors attend annual practice area conferences, “always in pretty plush locations,” with the worldwide dispute resolution team having recently enjoyed a three-day get together in Prague with “loads of workshops, lectures and teambuilding exercises.”
Given the size of the US offices, practical on-the-job training also works well. That said, there's still “plenty of formalized in-house stuff.” Sources described a typical first-year exercise: “A partner will typically pair up with a newbie for a mock presentation. The junior will do all the work and preparation and then they'll both present to their group.” This practical development runs parallel to a firmwide 'career milestones' training and assessment program, which garnered more of a lukewarm response from interviewees. “It's more like a set of skills that are listed and you're supposed to work toward but it's hard to articulate all of these different milestones.” Nonetheless, there was near unanimous relief that “unlike London, the milestones don't affect our compensation.”
Appraisals take place annually, “though I think first-years get one after six months.” Juniors approach senior associates and partners they've worked with and ask them to submit a short appraisal on a sheet. Then meeting with a partner, “they more or less explain what you're doing well and what needs improvement.” Freshfields also encourages partners to give regular informal feedback.
“It is absolutely gorgeous,” effused one source about the firm's NYC digs. “I'm talking to you right now from the 56th floor and looking out over Central Park and upper Manhattan, the sun is shining and it's pretty sweet.” As well as this awestruck individual's 56th floor, Freshfields has the one below and two above, meaning they take up floors 55-58 of “one of the taller buildings in Midtown.” Besides the panoramic views, the building's location directly above the East 51st subway station was also lauded – “especially when it's minus 20 on a February morning.”
“The décor has kind of a Scandinavian vibe – simple, wooden and clean.”
DC is more of a modest affair. Again it's conveniently located for commuters “right by the Metro Center stop in the middle of town,” and “we're right next to a church whose bells toll every hour, on the hour.” Inside “the décor has kind of a Scandinavian vibe – simple, wooden and clean.”
Hours & Compensation
The lockstep salary and bonus system was universally praised by sources. However, there's no billings target at Freshfields, which was a relief to some but others found it quite stressful because expectations and transparency vary, partner-to-partner. When it comes to those bonuses, the firm “isn't at Wachtell's level but we did do a salary match when Cravath went up.” In terms of hours, juniors felt Freshfields was pretty standard for the Big Apple – with most days ending around 8 or 9pm – while DC is “a little less crazy.” That said, “there are plenty of lawyers who have young families and so will leave the office at six, go home and have dinner, and then start working remotely again later – that's definitely encouraged by management.”
Vacation is a pretty standard “20 days, with six that you can carry over.” Though “unlike our European colleagues, who disappear for a week or two in August, we're still expected to be contactable.”
Pro bono fits into Freshfields's ethos of juniors being expected to dive into things head first. Their willingness to do so is rewarded – every February there is a reception where “the highest pro bono billers are commended in front of the whole office.” All of the work is coordinated out of New York so most of it is centered in the Big Apple, although DC does a lot too. Interviewees had worked with New York's Legal Aid Society, mostly on work with asylum seekers, while others had been involved with the Bronx Defenders and the UN.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 11,743
- Average per US attorney: 70
Associates recognized that Freshfields is taking the requisite steps in the right direction, especially with regards to gender. The firm has a formal female mentorship program that couples junior partners with mid-level associates with the aim of “counseling them to show what it takes to move up the chain to the top.” There's also an active LGBT group that does a lot of pro bono work on transgender and same-sex rights and – like the practice areas – convenes globally every 14 months for a two-day conference in London.
While being bilingual and attending a prestigious university are by no means essential to success in the Freshfields recruitment process, they certainly aren't a hindrance. “Languages and top schools” kept popping up when we asked about the ideal Freshfields candidate: “Looking at the biographies of my colleagues, they all listed fluency in at least one other language.” But never fear, recruiters are also looking for a sharp intellectual curiosity – “I did a lot of interviews and I felt Freshfields went into more detail about school. They asked a lot about the academic work I'd done. I think they are maybe looking at people who have done more humanities-focused subjects.” After surviving the interviews, potential recruits are treated to a cocktail reception, though one nervous source quipped: “I kind of wish it had been before.”
The magic circle explained
You can be forgiven as a law student for not being an expert on this magical collection of London-headquartered firms. Even current Freshfields juniors didn't really know what the magic circle was when they were aspiring attorneys in law school, with one saying: “I had a vague impression of Freshfields being part of this obscure 'magic circle,' but I didn't have a full understanding of what it was exactly. Those firms seemed to exist more in their own category.”
The very term 'magic circle' can easily evoke connotations of witchcraft or occult practices, but rest assured it's not quite as dark and sinister as all that. Instead, the term simply applies to the quintet of leading UK-headquartered firms: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Slaughter and May, and, of course, Freshfields. The term is also applicable to a selection of London's leading commercial sets of barristers' chambers.
Most of the magic circle firms were founded in the 19th century, but Freshfields is the oldest bird among them, established as it was all the way back in 1743. It took a while for these firms to make that brave leap across the pond though, with the majority opening up shop in New York during the seventies and eighties. Linklaters was the first to do so, establishing a base in 1972, but Freshfields was hot on its heels and decided to settle in the Big Apple a few years later, in 1977.
The next stepping stone for these firms was Washington, DC, but none of them dived into the capital too soon, waiting until the late nineties – and in the case of Linklaters, not until 2012 – before attempting to build up a second US office. Slaughter and May is the only magic circle firm to opt out of the process, preferring instead to maintain connections with the US via alliances with New York top-dogs Cravath and Wachtell.
Interview, Peter Lyons, Regional Managing Partner, Freshfields
Chambers Associate: What are your highlights from 2016?
Peter Lyons: It’s been a great year for the firm. Aly El Hamamsy recently joined us in M&A. We also added Dan Braun to our litigation team; he has extensive experience working for the Justice Department and was Deputy Chief for Litigation in the Fraud Section prior to joining us. Aly and Dan are two lateral hires whom we feel very good about. In terms of other highlights, there’s a pending merger between Henderson and Janus, which I think most people in the asset management space think will be a harbinger of elasticity. We also represented F1 with Liberty Media in a very complicated deal. It’s ground-breaking for us to be working on deals like that—it demonstrates that people are really standing up and taking notice. Our antitrust lawyers also continue to be market leaders, and we have consistently been ranked number one in that area. We continue to lead in international arbitration, and Nigel Blackaby, who is based in our Washington, DC office and is the global head of that group, is a rock star.
CA: How significant is the US market to the firm?
PL: Growing our US practice continues to be one of the firm’s top strategic priorities. In the US, we have offices in New York and DC, and we run these offices as an integrated practice. Our New York and DC attorneys work together on a daily basis, and we also work with attorneys in Europe and Asia every day. We don’t view ourselves as a London-based firm; rather, we view ourselves as a truly global firm. I think New York is and continues to be more and more important to the legal landscape, and we are focused on transactions and cases that have a significant scope. These will only get harder in the current climate, with nationalism coming to the fore. From the firm’s perspective, we have a mandate to meaningfully grow our practice, which differentiates us from the overwhelming majority of US firms. We are leveraging our international footprint to be the best in the business.
CA: Are there any plans to open any more US offices or at least expand the existing two?
PL: Of the core businesses we’re in, our largest in the US are: corporate M&A, capital markets, finance, dispute resolution, arbitration and antitrust. We have a mandate to grow these businesses and other businesses to the extent that we accentuate our biggest offering.
If you want to take a long-range view, do I see other offices in the future? Yes. Do I see them in the immediate future? No. We are more focused on building out our New York and DC practices than opening other operations. As I mentioned, our antitrust team in DC is at the top of the market, and the same is true of our international arbitration team. We already have a significant share of the market in those areas, but we’re still growing.
CA: How important is possessing a second language for those applying to the firm? What do you look for in a candidate?
PL: What I think about is, is this an individual who understands the concept of excellence and can put that into practice? How do I define excellence? Doing things that you didn’t know you were capable of doing. I want someone who has demonstrated that commitment to excellence, and that can exhibit itself in a number of ways. It could be in work experience, or it could be in college athletics.
CA: How is the new assignment system working for associates?
PL: We put some structure around our work assignment process in the corporate group, which was intended to make the system more formal. Prior to doing this, we didn’t have as much information about people’s workloads as we’d have liked, so we moved to remedy that.
CA: What does Freshfields offer young lawyers that is unique?
PL: Freshfields offers young lawyers an opportunity to work with people around the globe every day. If you are excited by the prospect of being on the phone with people from at least four different countries every day, then Freshfields will be a great fit. You will get some purely domestic work, but the overwhelming majority of our work has an international aspect to it. I have really strong friendships with people around the world, and my life is much richer for that. More importantly, the work is more interesting. It’s more challenging and has more complexity to it. Business culture is different in different places, and part of what we do is help to bridge those business cultures, and that makes our work more interesting. We can offer clients something others can’t.
CA: What effects will a Trump presidency have on the legal market?
PL: There are a couple of things that will happen specifically with tax policy, antitrust and M&A. What I always go back to is the fact that the world is a global place, and we’re not going back. The internationalism of the world is compelling from an economic perspective, and that isn’t going to change. It may mean the difficulty of doing things across borders increases, but that plays to our strengths. We’ve had a fairly extensive discussion about what effects a Trump presidency will have on the legal market.
CA: What advice would you give to our readers?
PL: The son of some dear friends of mine recently received an offer from a good firm in DC. And what I said to him was, “Have peripheral vision. Look around, take it all in, and be open to new things.” Don’t have a completely preconceived notion of what you want to do. There are so many things that are important now that weren’t important 20 years ago. The legal profession has evolved dramatically over the past 20 years, and that has had significant effects on the industry. I would encourage new lawyers to keep an open mind.
Interview with Freshfields Hiring Chair Jerome Ranawake and Legal Recruiting & Personnel Manager Rebecca Calman
Chambers Associate: Has the scope of your recruiting drive changed in any way over the past few years, either geographically, or in terms of the kinds of school you have visited?
Jerome Ranawake: We continue to recruit at a variety of law schools across the US, including all of the T14 schools. We also consider applicants from mid-tier law schools who are at the top of their class. In terms of scale, growth in the US continues to be one of the firm’s top strategic priorities.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruitment?
JR: Diversity and inclusion continue to be top priorities for the firm. Our associate pool is equally represented by men and women, and about half of the summer associates in our most recent class come from diverse backgrounds. We also make sure that all lawyers sent to interview on campus receive unconscious bias training and are appropriately educated on diversity and inclusion issues. The firm is also focused on promoting more female attorneys to partner, and in order to do that, we pair senior women at the firm with partner mentors who support their development and retention.
Rebecca Calman: We also partner with diverse student organizations such as the Black Law Students Associations and various women’s groups. Each year, we attend the Lavender Law Conference & Career Fair, the Northeast Black Law Students Association Job Fair, and the Harvard Black Law Students Association Job Fair.
CA: Can you remember any interview questions you have asked in the past that have been met with particularly good responses?
JR: I think I would impress on candidates that Freshfields generally has a reputation for asking more challenging questions than a lot of other firms. For example, we might ask about your undergraduate dissertation if you mention it on your CV or about some of the courses you’ve taken during the year. As a general rule, our interviewers typically ask candidates at least one technical legal question. I think candidates appreciate the fact that we take the endeavor seriously and ask them to think on their feet.
CA: What are you looking for in a candidate and what type of person really thrives at Freshfields?
JR: We’re always looking for people with international backgrounds, which could include experience before law school, time spent abroad, language skills, or participation in a journal or organization that is focused on international law. The people who really thrive at Freshfields are the ones who are entrepreneurial and have a genuine interest in working on cross border matters.
CA: Has the summer program changed in any way in the past few years?
JR: We continue to focus on ensuring that all of our summer associates receive as much substantive work as possible and that they are exposed to all of our different practice areas. We have a summer work allocation committee that manages the pool of summer associate work assignments, and each summer associate is assigned to a dedicated committee member who is focused on ensuring that each of his or her summer associates receives a balanced and varied mix of work.
CA: What is the firm’s approach to lateral hiring?
JR: There’s always demand in the market for high-quality, mid to senior-level laterals. Historically, we have done well with lateral hiring, but we always want to make sure someone is moving for the right reasons and that they are genuinely interested in our international platform. We’re certainly open to hiring laterals; however, our preference is to have home-grown associates whom we recruited from law school.
CA: What does Freshfields offer young lawyers that is unique?
JR: Our international platform sets us apart from other firms, and it’s very much central to our DNA. We organize ourselves by practice groups rather than by geographical location; whether you’re based in New York, DC, London or another of our offices is immaterial because we all work together closely on a daily basis. We also staff matters leanly, which means that you’ll get substantial responsibility early in your career and exposure to partners and clients as a junior lawyer. Our US practice offers the best of both worlds: we have the capabilities and resources of a large international law firm, but we also have the collegiality and intimacy of a smaller firm.
CA: Are there plans to expand the DC office and the number of lawyers it takes?
JR: I think the ratio between the two offices will remain more or less constant. Our DC practice is focused on tax, antitrust and dispute resolution, which is reflective of that market. Our New York practice is comprised of corporate M&A; capital markets; finance; employment, pension, and benefits; dispute resolution; and tax. Bearing that in mind, new lawyers who are interested in the transactional space should look at our New York office.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
601 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 24
- Worldwide revenue: $1.944 billion
- Partners (US): 36
- Counsel (US): 11
- Associates (US): 120
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,462/week
- 2Ls: $3,462/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
- Summers 2017: 17
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 25 offers (100%), 21 acceptances
Main areas of work
Freshfields’ US offices concentrate on corporate and finance transactions, antitrust, tax, litigation and international arbitration, while the firm’s US attorneys based in Europe and Asia focus on corporate and securities transactions.
With over 2,500 lawyers in 26 key business centers around the world, Freshfields combines an unrivalled breadth of expertise across practice areas and borders with tremendous growth opportunities within the US practices. This unique balance defines the firm’s work style and culture. On one side, there’s the friendliness, personal attention and lack of hierarchy one finds in a small firm; on the other, the comprehensive network, breadth of work and resources of an international organization. Freshfields prides itself on being a collegial firm, working and learning together in a cutting edge, global environment.
• Number of 1st year associates: 19
• Number of 2nd year associates: 17
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
University of Chicago Law School, Columbia University Law School, Cornell, Duke Law School, Emory University, Fordham University School of Law, George Washington University Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, University of Michigan Law School, New York University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Stanford Law School, Vanderbilt Job Fair, UC Berkeley School of Law, University of Virginia, Yale Law School
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, 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. Most summer associates spend part of their summer in other Freshfields overseas offices such as London or Hong Kong.