Freshfields City finance partner exits for Kirkland

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Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer real estate finance partner Jonathan Birks is departing for Kirkland & Ellis in London.

Real estate finance lawyer Birks was made up to partner in 2014. His practice focuses on leveraged finance, real estate finance and private equity.

Kirkland is bulking up in real estate finance, following the hire of Linklaters head of real estate M&A Matthew Elliott in February last year – its first partner in Europe working full time in this area.

US firms are increasingly targeting this space as they expect a rise in US investment into the UK real estate finance market in the wake of Brexit.

US rival Latham & Watkins launched a real estate finance practice in London this summer. It hired Dechert real estate finance partner Jeremy Trinder in June, its first partner in this area. In July, it also brought in GE Capital Real Estate counsel Quentin Gwyer as a partner in real estate finance.

Birks is the fourth City magic circle partner the Kirkland has hired in 2016, after it recruited three Linklaters partners in May – private equity partners Stuart Boyd and David Holdsworth and tax partner Tim Lowe.

His move reunites him with former Freshfields finance colleague Michael Steele, who joined the firm in September last year.

In 2014, Birks acted alongside Steele as part of Freshfields team advising private equity house Blackstone on a €220m (£169m) refinancing deal with property vehicle Invista European Real Estate Trust.

Freshfields finalised plans to restructure its finance practice in May, as it continues to attempt to boost profitability across its partnership.

Further London magic circle exits to Kirkland include Linklaters City private equity partner Roger Johnson, announced in September last year, and Linklaters competition head Paula Riedel in May 2015.

However, the firm has also been hit by departures. In March, Legal Week revealed the firm had doubled the notice period for equity partners planning to leave the firm from 60 days to 120 days, after a raft of exits.

In February, it emerged that a six-partner Kirkland team was heading to Sidley Austin – including City private equity partners Christian Iwasko, Erik Dahl and Fatema Orjela.

The same month, high yield partner Andrew Hagan quit for Freshfields, where he was reunited with former Kirkland partner Ward McKimm, who transferred to Freshfields as co-head of the firm’s European leveraged finance group in September last year.

It is understood that all seven of the partners opted to quit earlier than perhaps they may otherwise have done so, in order to avoid the extended notice.