Freshfields hires Willkie litigator Mary Eaton

The Magic Circle firm hires another esteemed white-shoe litigator in New York.

The Magic Circle firm hires another esteemed white-shoe litigator in New York.

In another coup for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s US practice, the firm has hired Mary Eaton, formerly head of the corporate litigation practice at Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

This comes less than a year after Freshfields hired a team of high-profile corporate lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the US – including Meredith Kotler, who is, like Eaton, a litigator with an impressive track record in corporate disputes. Kotler and Eaton will jointly head the firm’s securities and shareholder litigation department.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher has a strong corporate litigation practice; it is ranked by Leaders League for Securities Litigation. Like Cleary Gottlieb, it’s a New York-headquartered white-shoe firm with a prestigious bench of seasoned partners who regularly handle strategically important matters for household-name clients. Freshfields has pockets deep enough to attract such talent: its profit last year rose by 1% to £688 million (around $860 million). By luring New York partners with impressive contact books, the UK-headquartered Freshfields is clearly making a bid to be widely recognised in the US for corporate litigation.

According to Eaton, the move was “an opportunity to build a group from the ground up, from its inception, with two senior women litigators at the helm committed to growing a practice”. Her shareholder litigation clients have included CBS, Facebook, Tower Insurance; she has also represented the independent directors of Citigroup and Merck & Co. in derivative cases.

Ethan Klingsberg, who led the defections from Cleary to head Freshfields’s corporate and M&A group last year, said in a statement: “Mary and Meredith are a powerhouse duo whose experience and expertise in communicating with directors and executives about serious litigation risks and in handling corporate litigation successfully are exactly what our clients are demanding.”

Shareholder litigation was already on the rise before the pandemic; there is sure to be more contentious work as the dust begins to settle. Freshfields is set to benefit from this, and its strengthened corporate department will be well positioned for a share of the M&A once the deal market bounces back.

It hasn’t been unimpeded growth for the Magic Circle firm: in April, former M&A head Mitchell Presser left for Morrison & Foerster along with private equity partner Omar Pringle. But overall the firm is building its corporate bench. It will likely be only a matter of time before the firm handles a headline shareholder litigation dispute.

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