Freshfields private equity heavyweight David Higgins quits to join Kirkland as London co-head

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity star David Higgins is set to join Kirkland & Ellis as London co-managing partner.

Higgins, who has been a partner with Freshfields since 2001, is well known as one of the top private equity lawyers in the City. His clients include Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Hellman & Friedman, Cinven and Blackstone.

He served as co-head of the magic circle firm’s global financial investors sector group from 2010 to 2016, before relinquishing the role to focus on client work.

Earlier this year, he led a Freshfields team advising a consortium comprising Blackstone, Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC and US insurance company Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance on Goldman Sachs’ sale of its final stake in Rothesay, a deal which valued the insurer at more than £2bn.

He also this year headed up the firm’s team advising Hellman & Friedman on its $5.3bn (£3.9bn) takeover of Scandinavian payment service provider Nets, one of the largest European leveraged buyout in the last five years.

At Kirkland, he will lead the US firm’s London office alongside current City head Stephen Lucas, while he will also take a role on the firm’s global management executive committee.

Kirkland global management executive committee chair Jeffrey Hammes said: “Continued investment in our European business is a key strategic focus for the firm. David brings a combination of business leadership, commercial awareness and experience on top-tier transactions, which will enable us to continue to develop our European private equity platform. We are delighted to welcome him to Kirkland.”

In a statement, Freshfields London corporate head Simon Marchant said: “We are grateful for David’s contributions over his time with us and wish him well in his new role. The strength and depth of our private equity practice across M&A, leveraged finance, high yield and real estate is second to none. David’s departure does not change that.”

Higgins’ exit comes after Freshfields announced plans to scrap its current lockstep system and instead introduce a new single ladder that will enable top performers to make six times more than those at the bottom. Partners voted through the new system in November after six weeks of debate, and it will come into effect at the start of the new financial year in May.

One private equity partner commented: “The interesting thing about this is the fact that Freshfields just changed its lockstep and Higgins decided to move nevertheless. Notwithstanding what’s been happening at Freshfields, the money pull from US firms is still there – Kirkland is a great firm and a great private equity firm.”

The hire of Higgins marks Kirkland’s latest acquisition from Freshfields, after the US firm recruited the co-leader of the magic circle firm’s alternative capital group, Sean Lacey, earlier this year.

In the last two years, Kirkland has also recruited Freshfields real estate finance partner Jonathan Birks and finance partner Michael Steele. High yield partner Ward McKimm moved in the opposite direction in 2015, after four years at Kirkland.