Herbert Smith Freehills senior partner Palmer faces challenge from litigation heavyweight for top role

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) litigation heavyweight Mark Shillito is running against corporate partner James Palmer for the role of senior partner at the firm.

Nominations for the role opened last month and closed this week. The two candidates will now hold hustings, with a vote held in the second week of March.

Palmer (pictured above) has been senior partner since February 2015, when he saw off competition from Australian deputy senior partner Mark Crean, EMEA head Allen Hanen and dispute resolution partner Tim Parkes to succeed Jonathan Scott in the role.

Crean, Hanen and Parkes have all subsequently left the firm, with Crean moving to Jones Day in Sydney, Hanen retiring for a new role at legal consultancy Co-ordinated Law and Parkes now chair of the Financial Conduct Authority’s Regulatory Decisions Committee.

Palmer joined legacy Herbert Smith as a trainee in 1986, making partner in 1994. He was equity capital markets co-head from 2005 to 2010, and later became global head of corporate, holding the post for two years from 2010. From 2002 to 2006, he was also a member of legacy Herbert Smith’s partnership council.

Shillito (pictured right), who was succeeded as head of UK and US disputes by Damien Byrne Hill this week, is also a lifer at the firm.

He made partner in 1996 and was named head of UK and US disputes upon the merger of Herbert Smith and Australia’s Freehills in 2012, having held the equivalent position at legacy Herbert Smith since 2008.

The winning partner will chair HSF’s firm’s partnership council and will lead the firm alongside chief executive Mark Rigotti.

Rigotti has been HSF’s sole CEO since October 2016, when the firm phased out its joint leadership structure, which had seen him work in tandem with dispute resolution veteran Sonya Leydecker since May 2014. Leydecker retired from the partnership and left the firm last year.

HSF declined to comment.