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Freshfields Taps First Woman Leader, Still Rare in Big Law

Sept. 24, 2020, 7:27 PM

Georgia Dawson has been named to lead London-founded Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, making her the first woman to head the Magic Circle firm.

The leader of the firm’s Asia dispute resolution practice becomes senior partner and will head a new team composed of Alan Mason, Rafique Bachour and Rick van Aerssen, the firm announced. She takes over from senior partner Edward Braham in January.

London-founded Freshfields has been undergoing a vigorous growth in the U.S., hiring experienced female lawyers to expand its stateside footprint.

The firm opened an office this year in Silicon Valley with five lawyers from firms including Davis Polk & Wardwell as the legal market is likely to face an upswing in shareholder lawsuits and claims targeting how corporations and boards responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

The “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,” Dawson said in a statement.

Dawson has been a Freshfields partner in Hong Kong since 2012, becoming regional managing partner in Asia in 2017. She splits her time between Singapore and Hong Kong, where her practice has focused on internal and regulatory investigations, complex multi-jurisdictional litigation, and advice on compliance in anti-money laundering, anti-bribery and corruption and human rights matters.

She’ll take over at Freshfields with women still underrepresented at the top of Big Law firms, and struggling as well to close the gender gap in other areas, like equity partnerships.

A few top firm female leaders include Faiza Saeed at Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Jami McKeon at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and Kim Koopersmith at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Laterals Picking Up

Freshfields has picked up lateral hiring, which was hampered for years because of the difference between pay structures of with U.S. firms, which mostly do not have lockstep compensation tied to seniority, and have higher annual compensation packages.

Earlier this year, the 2,800-lawyer firm added Mary Eaton as co-head of a new securities and shareholder litigation practice. Eaton had been Wilkie Farr & Gallagher’s business and corporate litigation practice group chair.

She works with Meredith Kotler, who joined the firm in 2019 with a team from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton which included mergers and acquisitions heavyweight Ethan Klingsberg. The firm later picked up a second four-lawyer merger and acquisitions team from Cleary in its effort to build a presence in the U.S. in corporate work.

The firm’s new leadership includes Mason, who works in Europe and the U.S. as a corporate and M&A partner; Bachour, who is global co-head of the firm’s general industries sector group, which has clients in the industries including automotive and chemicals; and van Aerssen, who is co-head of the global transactions practice handling capital markets and M&A.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com

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

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