McKimm, who co-heads Freshfields’ European leveraged finance group and reportedly one of the firm’s best-paid partners, is leaving three years after joining from Kirkland & Ellis in June 2015.
A move to Shearman marks a return for McKimm, who spent about 14 years at the U.S. firm before joining Kirkland in 2011. His key clients include BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley and he was followed to Freshfields by fellow Kirkland high-yield partner Andrew Hagan in February 2016.
“We are delighted to welcome Ward back to the firm,” said Shearman senior partner David Beveridge. “He has an excellent reputation in the market and will be a fantastic addition to our London office.”
For Shearman, the hire of McKimm plugs the gap left by former European capital markets chief, Apostolos Gkoutzinis, who left for rival Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy in January. The firm recently appointed new London leadership, with Brussels managing partner and global competition head Matthew Readings taking over as London head from Nick Buckworth.
“Clients continue to turn to us to help them navigate the most complex and innovative transactions, and Ward will be a major asset in providing our clients with a top-of-market legal service,“ said Shearman head of European capital markets David Dixter.
Shearman’s last significant lateral partner hire in London was its September 2015 addition of Freshfields TMT co-head Frank Miller, after taking on Addleshaw Goddard M&A partner Ben Rodham the previous year.
However, Shearman has also seen a number of London partner exits in recent years, with Rodham leaving for Linklaters in late 2015, and private equity partner Mark Soundy and tax partner Sarah Priestley finding a new home at Goodwin Procter in December 2016. Meanwhile, mining co-head Richard Price left last year to become group general counsel at Anglo American.
For Freshfields, McKimm’s exit comes on the back of the high-profile departure of private equity heavyweight David Higgins, who quit for Kirkland at the end of last year.
The firm recently overhauled its lockstep, with more than 60 partners seeing their profit share reduced when the new system was ushered in this May.
Previously, the firm operated a main ladder running from 17.5 to 50 points and a lower ladder for less profitable jurisdictions and practices from 10 to 30 points. However, the new system is based on a single ladder, enabling top performers to make six times more than those at the bottom. All partners join the lockstep at 12 points, with a new top of lockstep rising to 60 points. Everything above 40 points only applies to star performers and those in competitive markets such as New York.
When McKimm joined Freshfields, the firm reportedly broke lockstep to secure his hire, having already handed above-lockstep pay deals to partners in Asia to shield them from the advances of U.S. firms.
The firm last week posted a 5 percent uptick in global revenue for 2017-18, alongside a 12 percent profit per equity partner hike to £1.734 million ($2.3 million), after what managing partner Stephan Eilers called “a very satisfactory year.”
Other recent partner departures include former global infrastructure and transport co-head Martin Nelson-Jones, who is leaving to join DLA Piper, and Paris head Elie Kleiman, who joined Jones Day’s base in the French capital.
Freshfields praised Ward for the work he accomplished and wished him well.
“Ward helped us build out the high-yield piece of our leveraged finance team, which advises many of the most sophisticated financial investors in the market,” said Freshfields London head of transactions Julian Pritchard. “We are proud that our market-leading private equity and leveraged finance team supports these clients in delivering outstanding results. We wish Ward well in his new role.”