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24 September 2020

Freshfields becomes first magic circle UK firm to appoint a woman leader

Asia head Georgia Dawson takes top role; one of three co-managing partners to be based in US

By John Malpas

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has appointed Asia managing partner Georgia Dawson as its next senior partner making her the first woman to lead a magic circle firm.

She will succeed Edward Braham in January alongside a trio of co-managing partners: Alan Mason, Rafique Bachour and Rick van Aerssen. 

They will jointly take over from managing partner Stephan Eilers in what amounts to a revamp of the deputy leadership role. And in a significant move, Mason will move from Paris to the US, which has been the focus of considerable investment in recent months.

Dawson, who also heads the Asia disputes practice, currently splits her time between Hong Kong and Singapore and specialises in investigations and multi-jurisdiction litigation. She will relocate to London.

She has also received recognition for her commitment to diversity and inclusion, including by Stonewall, which named her as a 2019 Global Senior Champion.

Her appointment will add weight to the firm’s pledge to improve its diversity record. This year just four (17%) of the cohort of 21 new partners were women. The gender balance put it well behind many leading UK firms, including UK rivals Linklaters (27%), Herbert Smith Freehills (50%) and CMS (41%), which is led by Penelope Warne, one of the few women to lead a top international firm to date.

Dawson said her management team had “broad experience and a diversity of perspectives, and a shared purpose and vision for Freshfields. We intend to preserve the very best of our culture, market leading practices and standards of client service while leading the firm into the next chapter of its long history.”

She also paid tribute to the current incumbents, referencing the firm’s recent eye-catching launch of an office in Silicon Valley as evidence of “their investment in strengthening and deepening our global platform”.

All three co-managing partners hold senior positions at the firm. Mason, who is a dual French and English national, is a cross-border M&A specialist and currently serves as the firm’s global client partner.

Brussels-based Bachour is a competition specialist and also serves as global co-head of the firm’s general industries sector group.

Van Aerssen, meanwhile, is co-head of the firm’s core global transactions practice. The Frankfurt-based partner specialises in capital markets and M&A transactions.

Australian-trained Dawson qualified at the legacy firm Freehills  – now Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) – and joined Freshfields in 2004, making partner in 2012.

Her route to the top job echoes that of HSF's Justin D'Agostino, who was Asia managing partner before becoming CEO earlier this year. D'Agostino, however, chose to remain in Hong Kong as opposed to relocating to London.

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