Freshfields celebrates landmark New York M&A partner hire from Cravath

Arrival of Damien Zoubek builds on UK Magic Circle firm's launch of a Silicon Valley office last year

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is celebrating a landmark New York hire after securing the services of Cravath Swaine & Moore corporate partner Damien Zoubek.

Zoubek has been a partner at Cravath since 2007, making him one of its leading corporate lawyers having advised on a string of major deals for the leading Wall Street firm.

He is joining Freshfields as co-head of US Corporate and M&A alongside Ethan Klingsberg, whose hire from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in 2019 kick started Freshfields’ drive to grow a heavyweight US practice.

Notably, it is the kind of raid on Wall Street’s elite law firms that is normally associated with US ‘out-of-town’ giants Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis and Los Angeles-headquartered Latham & Watkins.

“Deals are getting done on a multinational scale, so looking at the lens through one country doesn’t make sense anymore,” Zoubek told the Wall Street Journal.

Freshfields’ US push began in earnest in 2019 when it hired Klingsberg from Cleary in New York along with two other M&A partners and a litigation partner. Then, in July last year, it shifted its attention to the West Coast’s burgeoning technology sector with the launch of a Silicon Valley office. It hired five partners from four US rivals: Davis Polk, Latham, Sidley Austin and Wilson Sonsini.

Tony Williams, principal of Jomati Consultants, said: “The hire by Freshfields is important in that it shows they can be attractive to top rate candidates and demonstrates their determination to grow further in the US and a preparedness to be flexible in terms of remuneration to get the right candidate.
“Organic growth in the US is still challenging but it is encouraging to see that the leading UK firms are now seriously competing for talent at a high level.”
Cravath, meanwhile, can point to its seventh placing in Mergermarket’s H1 global M&A table – three slots above Freshfields ­– as evidence its model of operating as a tight-knit Wall Street-focused practice remains sound.
But the deal will inevitably revive the ongoing debate over the viability of its continued adherence to a pure lockstep remuneration model under which partner pay is based on seniority.
Last year, Davis Polk & Wardwell abandoned its lockstep model, which it said was inconsistent with its growth plans. That left Cravath as one of just a handful of top firms wedded to the system that include Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Cleary in New York and Slaughter and May in London.

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