In July, London’s Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer faced an unwelcome milestone in its 264-year history: getting sued by a former partner, for the first time ever. In an employment claim, Peter Bloxham — a 55-year-old former restructuring partner who had spent his entire career at the Magic Circle firm — argued that Freshfields had discriminated against him on the basis of age when it overhauled its pension plan in 2006.

Never mind the damages that Bloxham sought — the publicity was bad enough. Over the course of almost two weeks, Bloxham and then a succession of senior Freshfields partners testified before a London employment tribunal, laying bare details that the firm would have preferred to keep private. The world learned, for example, that Freshfields’ pre-reform pension plan awarded retired partners an annuity of more than $400,000. (Bloxham’s gripe was that he was forced to accept a reduced annuity worth around $350,000 a year, since he had not reached the firm’s retirement age of 55 at the time of the change.) In the spotlight was not just the firm’s pension reform, but the massive, concurrent restructuring of the Freshfields partnership that saw more than 100 equity partners depart in a two-year period. In his witness statement, Bloxham asserted that both measures were prompted by the firm’s desire to push profits “to a level which would set it firmly among an elite group of firms worldwide.”

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