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Headhunting Agency Drops Lawsuit Over Freshfields Lateral Hire

Oct. 13, 2020, 6:14 PM

Headhunting agency Boston Executive Search Associates Inc. dropped its case against Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP over the law firm’s lateral hiring of a partner.

The law firm contacted Boston Executive to discuss recruitment for one of its practice groups, according to the agency’s complaint. Boston Executive sent Freshfields its standard agreement for recruiting services, but the firm didn’t sign it. Instead it sent back its own contingency fee agreement which differed significantly from the agency’s, including by imposing a fee cap. Boston Executive countered with its standard agreement again, but Freshfields still didn’t sign.

While these negotiations were ongoing, Boston Executive contacted Ethan Klingsberg, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, who responded positively to the possibility of joining Freshfields, the agency said. When informed of this, Freshfields initially expressed great interest in recruiting Klingsberg, but later asked the agency to hold off its recruiting efforts, according to Boston Executive.

Freshfields subsequently announced it had hired Klingsberg and three associates from Cleary. The firm reportedly told Boston Executive the agency had played no role in the introduction or placement of Klingsberg and wasn’t owed any compensation.

Boston Executive brought claims against Freshfields under the Massachusetts Unfair Business Practices Act, as well as breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment claims.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed most of the claims in June, saying that under Massachusetts law a broker or finder agreement is void and unenforceable unless it’s in writing and signed by the defendant. But the court allowed Boston Executive’s claim for unfair or deceptive business practices to move forward.

Boston Executive told the court Friday it agreed to the dismissal of its remaining claim.

Yurko, Salvesen & Remz PC represents Boston Executive Search Associates. Goodwin Procter LLP represents Freshfields.

The case is Boston Exec. Search Assocs. v. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP, D. Mass., No. 1:19-cv-12378, stipulation of dismissal filed 10/9/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Flood in Washington at bflood@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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