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Freshfields Launches In Silicon Valley With Rival Talent (1)

July 1, 2020, 11:29 AMUpdated: July 1, 2020, 7:49 PM

London-founded Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is making a splash landing in Silicon Valley, hiring five California attorneys from large U.S. law firms to create a new office and expand its stateside footprint.

Former Davis Polk corporate lawyer Sarah Solum is moving to Freshfields, along with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati securities litigator Boris Feldman. They will join former partners from Sidley Austin and Latham Watkins in the new Freshfields Northern California office.

Collectively, the new additions have already represented Google, HP Inc., Facebook, Netflix Inc, and Salesforce.com Inc., among others.

The investment comes at a time of broad uncertainty for large law firms, many of which have laid off staff and reduced lawyer compensation as clients struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing business closures. It also follows Freshfields’ headline hire of mergers and acquisitions partner Ethan Klingsberg from Cleary Gottlieb last year, helping the firm through the first half of this year advise on deals worth nearly $108 billion, more than any other firm, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The firm “is performing very well” through the pandemic, senior partner Edward Braham told Bloomberg Law in an interview. Klingsberg also said he expects a number of deals, especially involving California technology companies, to occur this month. Those factors helped convince the firm to invest in a hand-picked Silicon Valley group aimed at the firm’s goal of providing high-level legal services including M&A, regulatory guidance, and litigation support to global companies.

“That means catering to the strategic plans of these clients,” Klingsberg told Bloomberg Law. “It’s not a complicated formula, but it takes a lot of resources and vision, and frankly I’m not aware of anybody else who is putting in the resources to pull that off for clients.”

Freshfields isn’t the only firm with its sights set on Silicon Valley. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison is also reportedly looking to launch a new office in the tech-rich coast of the San Francisco Bay. That could crowd the field for legal services in a market that hasn’t always been kind to out-of-towners.

Eye on Tech Clients

Freshfields’ new office will launch with seven lawyers experienced in big-ticket M&A, corporate finance, securities litigation, and antitrust matters. Several of those attorneys already have local roots.

The office will be led by Solum, who joins from Davis Polk, where she had been a founding partner of the Wall Street firm’s Silicon Valley office in 1999. Solum, who will serve as Freshfields’ head of U.S. capital markets, is a boardroom advisor who has guided technology clients through the corporate life cycle. She represented Pivotal Software in its 2018 public offering and advised the company in its sale to VMWare Inc. last year.

Feldman has practiced at Wilson Sonsini for nearly 35 years. Doru Gavril, a Wilson Sonsini associate, is also joining Freshfields as a partner in Silicon Valley.

Feldman will be head of Freshfields’ U.S. technology practice. He has a top-ranked California securities litigation practice with Chambers & Partners, representing the likes of Google, HP, Facebook, Snap. Inc., and Netflix, among others, in shareholder litigation and other matters.

He’s currently representing Google parent Alphabet Inc. in a lawsuit by Rhode Island’s state retirement system alleging the company hid a data breach that compromised the personal information of more than 50 million users. Feldman is also part of a team defending Snap in a class action alleging that the company used shoddy user metrics for its video-based Snapchat app to inflate its stock price.

John Fisher joins Freshfields from Sidley Austin, where he’d practiced in Palo Alto for nearly seven years. He represents clients in the technology, pharmaceutical, and life sciences industries. Fisher led a team that represented Salesforce.com in its $1.3 billion purchase of Vlocity Inc., which closed last month. Fisher, who will serve as Freshfields’ head of U.S. Technology and Life Sciences M&A, has experience handling technology and life sciences joint ventures.

Maj Vaseghi, an employee benefits and executive compensation partner previously at Latham & Watkins, will join Freshfields as a partner. She previously served as in-house securities and corporate governance counsel at VMWare. Benefits and compensation capabilities, as well as tax expertise, are a key part of Silicon Valley deal teams, which have proved difficult for some firms to assemble.

Freshfields corporate governance and capital markets partner Pamela Marcogliese, who joined Freshfields from Cleary Gottlieb alongside Klingsberg, will move from New York to Silicon Valley. Freshfields partner Alan Ryan, an antitrust lawyer, will move from Brussels to Silicon Valley.

Bob Brigham, a former Cooley partner in Silicon Valley who is now a recruiter for Major Lindsey & Africa, said it makes “perfect sense” for Freshfields to open an office there, since the firm has serviced some major clients in the Valley for decades and has a reputation for handling large, complex, cross-border matters. He said the partners the firm hired are well-regarded locally.

“They did it in exactly the way they should do it,” Brigham said. “It’s a pretty complete offering right from the get-go, which is what they do. They want to be a one-stop shop for global companies with all the capabilities to handle their most important matters.”

Solum said it has been “an incredibly busy” time in Silicon Valley, especially for a capital markets practice. U.S. companies have issued debt at a record-setting pace this year, bolstering their balance sheets through the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“Practically every company I can think of has raised money in the last few months,” Solum said in an interview. “The markets have been surprisingly strong and they are looking at buying opportunities. I think this is a great time to make a bold move like this. For me it makes perfect sense to enter the market at this time.”

M&A Momentum

Founded in London in 1743, Freshfields opened in New York in 1977 and added a Washington office in 1998. Silicon Valley will be its third U.S. outpost, coming at a time when the firm is making inroads to the top of U.S. deal tables.

The value of deals has fallen nearly 50% compared to last year through six months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Freshfields led all law firms with the nearly $108 billion worth of M&A deals it advised on in the first half of the year. Last year at this time, Freshfields ranked No. 20 among law firms by that measure.

The firm has a large practice in Asia, which Klingsberg said has turned to a recovery phase since enduring the worst of the pandemic before the rest of the world. Aside from the current business environment, Braham said the hires were driven by Silicon Valley being seen as a strategic priority for the firm.

“As the team came together it became more and more compelling. And we got to a point where the decision was a straightforward one,” Braham said. “You do it when the opportunity arises.”

—With assistance from Stephanie Russell-Kraft

(Updated with additional reporting on the firm's transaction work.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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