David Higgins

David Higgins, a high-powered private equity partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London, is set to join Kirkland & Ellis as its new co-managing partner in the city.

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

At Freshfields, Higgins 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, Higgins led a Freshfields team advising a consortium led by Blackstone, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC Private Ltd. and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. on their $2.7 billion purchase of a stake in U.K. life insurer Rothesay from The Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Higgins also headed up a Freshfields team advising Hellman & Friedman on its $5.3 billion takeover of Scandinavian payment service provider Nets, a transaction that is one of the largest European leveraged buyouts in the last five years.

At Kirkland, Higgins will lead its London office alongside current managing partner Stephen Lucas, who joined Kirkland in another high-profile lateral move three years ago this month, as well as take a role on the Am Law 100 firm’s global management executive committee.

“Continued investment in our European business is a key strategic focus for the firm,” said Jeffrey Hammes, chairman of Kirkland’s 15-person global management executive committee. “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.”

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 the new protocols will come into effect at the start of Freshfields’ new financial year in May 2018.

One private equity partner at a large firm in London, who requested anonymity when discussing the lateral market, noted that despite the recent lockstep changes at Freshfields, Higgins still chose to leave for Kirkland, a firm whose financial success in recent years has been the envy of many competitors curious about its strategic focus.

“Notwithstanding what’s been happening at Freshfields, the money pull from U.S. firms is still there—Kirkland is a great firm and a great private equity firm,” the partner said.

Earlier this month, Kirkland made another splash in the lateral market by bringing on Debevoise & Plimpton investment management and funds head Erica Berthou and deputy corporate chair Jordan Murray. Both lawyers have since brought with them former Debevoise colleagues Richard Robinson Jr., Katrina Rowe and Carrie VanFleet, all of whom have come aboard as partners in New York.

The hire of Higgins also marks Kirkland’s latest acquisition from Freshfields. In May, Kirkland hired Sean Lacey, co-leader of the London-based legal giant’s alternative capital group, as a partner in London, where Kirkland saw a seven-partner group decamp in early 2016. Freshfields itself is wishing Higgins well at Kirkland.

“We are grateful for David’s contributions over his time with us and wish him well in his new role,” said Freshfields’ London corporate head Simon Marchant in a statement. “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.”

In the last two years, Kirkland has also recruited Freshfields real estate finance partner Jonathan Birks in December 2016 and finance partner Michael Steele for its London office. After four years at Kirkland, high yield partner Ward McKimm moved in the opposite direction in 2015.

Additional reporting by Brian Baxter in New York.