Freshfields promotes London disputes head to lead global practice

Sarah Parkes takes reins as UK firm looks to build in US and establish pioneering German mass claims unit

Sarah Parkes

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has appointed London disputes leader Sarah Parkes as its next global disputes head as it presses on with plans to grow a heavyweight US practice and an innovative mass claims unit in Germany.

Parkes will succeed Andy Hart, who has held the role since 2019, in July when he will return to his financial services-focused London practice on a full-time basis. 

Parkes has spent her entire career at Freshfields. She was named head of the firm’s London disputes group at the same time as Hart took up the global role ‘to provide additional focus for the substantial London practice group’. Her practice focuses on complex financial services litigation, investigation and regulatory enforcement proceedings. 

In her new role, Parkes will oversee a group comprising more than 700 lawyers including 143 partners, as listed on the firm’s website. 

Senior partner Georgia Dawson, herself a litigator and former head of the firm's Asia disputes practice, said: “Sarah’s appointment demonstrates the deep strength of our cross-border disputes offering, and the breadth of talent at Freshfields assuming leadership roles. I also want to acknowledge the contribution made by our incumbent head Andy Hart, who has been instrumental in driving the strategic growth of the practice.”

Hart, meanwhile, described Parkes as an “outstanding successor” for the role. 

Key initiatives under Hart’s leadership have been the growth of the firm's mass claims practice in Germany – off the back of its work coordinating Volkswagen's global defence of claims arising from the diesel emissions scandal – and a drive to build a US practice that measures up to its leading position in other key global markets.

In December, Juve reported that Freshfields was responding to the growth of mass proceedings in Germany by building a new class actions unit across four new offices that will comprise more than 100 lawyers. 

Meanwhile, in the US, the litigation team has grown by 50% over the last two years, spurred on by the firm’s office launch in Silicon Valley, which it opened in 2020 with the help of a seven-partner corporate and litigation ‘dream team’ from Davis Polk, Latham & Watkins, Sidley Austin and Wilson Sonsini. 

Freshfields also promoted a wide crop of dispute resolution lawyers to partner during Hart’s term, with eight lawyers moving up within the practice this year, five in 2021 and six in 2020. All three rounds included one promotion in the US.

Freshfields’ disputes practice has handled a string of significant cases in the last 10 years, including helping Sotheby’s fend off an £11m negligence suit in 2015 and advising Deutsche Bank in a contested four-month trial against Sebastian Holdings in 2017. 

However, in March it said it was pulling out of a mandate advising Russian bank VTB on a long-running dispute in London’s High Court with Mozambique for repayment of a $535m loan in the aftermath of the ‘tuna bonds’ scandal when the government defaulted on $2bn of sovereign bonds issued to support its fishing industry.

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