Freshfields Poaches Top Deal Lawyer from Cravath

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP is poaching a top deal maker from Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, the latest offensive in a talent war among big law firms seeking to cash in on a boom in mergers and other transactions.

Damien Zoubek, who has been at Cravath since 1999, will join Freshfields as its co-head of corporate and mergers and acquisitions alongside Ethan Klingsberg, the firm said.

Mr. Zoubek is the latest big hire from a U.S. law firm by Freshfields, one of the U.K.’s “Magic Circle” firms. Mr. Klingsberg himself joined along with a handful of other partners after leaving Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in 2019.

Freshfields has been making a push to grow in the U.S., installing Alan Mason as global managing partner based in the U.S. in January and opening a practice in Silicon Valley last year.

Mr. Zoubek has been a partner at Cravath since 2007. Recent deals he has worked on include Afterpay Ltd. APT -4.17% ’s $29 billion sale to Square Inc., Canadian National Railway Co. CNI -1.24% ’s roughly $30 billion failed bid for Kansas City Southern and AmerisourceBergen Corp.’s $6.5 billion acquisition of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s pharmacy wholesale unit.

Mr. Zoubek said he was drawn to Freshfields’s global presence and established practices in areas such as antitrust and foreign investment rules. “Deals are getting done on a multinational scale, so looking at the lens through one country doesn’t make sense anymore,” he said.

The firm has recently landed roles on deals including the $5 billion sale of Verizon’s media assets to Apollo Global Management Inc., Universal Music Group NV’s separation from Vivendi SE and the $4.5 billion take-private of poultry producer Sanderson Farms Inc.

While M&A bankers often move around during their careers, it used to be rare for deal lawyers to do the same. That has changed in the past several years, underscoring the value the world’s biggest law firms are putting on deal making fees amid a global M&A boom.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP has also been aggressive poaching partners from other firms including Cravath, and last year hired Edward Lee from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Earlier this year, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP hired Krishna Veeraraghavan from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

Scott Barshay made waves in 2016 when the star deal maker left Cravath to head the mergers and acquisitions practice at Paul Weiss.

Those moves have brought to center stage a debate over whether the “lockstep” pay system based on seniority employed by some top firms can compete as others increasingly tie compensation more closely to performance.

Cravath is one of a handful of firms that employ a lockstep system. Firms like Freshfields, Kirkland and Paul Weiss have built in more flexibility to more heavily reward top performers.

Write to Cara Lombardo at

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Appeared in the September 29, 2021, print edition as ‘Freshfields Lures Top Deal Lawyer Away From Cravath.’