Kirkland hires Freshfields private equity duo, unveils relocation plans for London base

Vincent Bergin and Keir MacLennan join the Chicago firm as it announces plans to move to new building at 40 Leadenhall Street
A view of the City of London from Fenchurch Street. The Gherkin, 52-54 Lime Street (The Scalpel) along with the construction of the new 40 Leadenhall Street building.

Kirkland's current base, the Gherkin, looms over the construction site for its new home at 40 Leadenhall Street BradleyStearn; Shutterstock

Kirkland & Ellis has hired two partners from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to bolster its private equity group in London. 

Vincent Bergin and Keir MacLennan are the latest set of Magic Circle partners to depart for the US firm. The move coincides with Kirkland’s announcement that it will be relocating its London base from 30 St Mary Axe – known as the Gherkin – to a newly constructed space located at 40 Leadenhall Street. 

The hires come just a couple weeks after the US firm hired regulatory partner Julia Dixon from Linklaters, while it also hired away private equity lawyer Gregory Scott from Clifford Chance back in May. 

Bergin has been with Freshfields since the start of his legal career and was promoted to partner in last year’s 21-strong promotional round. His clientele includes the likes of New York private equity investment giants Blackstone and Warburg Pincus, as well as Luxembourg's CVC Capital Partners and London-based Apax Partners, among others. 

MacLennan, meanwhile, was promoted to partner in 2019 and specialises in handling high-profile and complex M&A, carve-outs, take-privates and exits for both financial sponsors and corporates. 

The moves will reunite Bergin and MacLennan with former Freshfields private equity colleagues David Higgins — who currently serves as Kirkland’s London co-managing partner — and Adrian Maguire, who left for Kirkland in 2017 and 2019 respectively. 

Kirkland currently sits atop the global rankings of law firms by revenue, and placed first in The American Lawyer’s 2021 AmLaw 200 ranking after raking in $4.8bn in gross revenue in 2020. The firm’s profit per equity partner notched in at $6.1m. 

The firm topped Mergermarket’s global M&A advisory league table for the first half of 2021 by deal count in July, notching 420 deals worth just shy of $317bn – up from second place in 2020.

Kirkland arrived in London back in 1994 and moved to the Gherkin in April 2006. The high-flying firm’s 550 London-based lawyers and staff will move into the new premises upon completion of construction, Kirkland said in a statement. The 34-storey building, designed to emulate the classic North American skyscrapers of the early 20th century, is due to be completed at the end of 2023.

Jon Ballis, chairman of Kirkland’s executive committee, said the new space “will be a modern and iconic building with state-of-the-art features”.

He added: “We will have a new, beautiful and welcoming environment in London for all our lawyers, staff and clients, with cutting edge technology and work spaces.”

In August, Skadden announced that it is moving its headquarters back into the City of London after 25 years in Canary Wharf to take up residence in the capital’s second-tallest building, the recently opened 22 Bishopsgate.

The New York firm has signed a 15-year lease to occupy 65,000 sq ft of space across three floors and is expected to relocate its 250-strong London contingent to their new home in late 2022 or early 2023.

Meanwhile, the loss of two private equity partners on its home turf is a blow to Freshfields and comes less than two weeks after it celebrated a landmark New York hire when it secured the services of Cravath Swaine & Moore corporate partner Damien Zoubek.

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