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HSF picks London captains

HSF picks London captains

It was called a “merger of equals”, but neither of the new CEOs of Herbert Smith Freehills is based in Australia.

HSF announced last month (19 December) that former legacy Freehills managing partner Mark Rigotti (pictured) and global head of disputes Sonya Leydecker have been selected as joint-CEOs of the global firm.

Both Rigotti and Leydecker are based in London.

Rigotti, an Australian, relocated from Sydney to London in December 2012 following his appointment as managing partner (clients and industries) of the newly-merged firm.

A spokesperson from HSF told Lawyers Weekly Rigotti would return to Australia in late 2014.

It is unclear, however, whether he will remain in Australia permanently.

The firm also added that Leydecker will “spend a considerable amount of time in Asia and Australia” to balance the firm’s leadership presence across its global headquarters.

The appointments will take effect from 1 May 2014 for a term of three years. The pair was recommended by the firm’s governance body on the advice of an external consultancy. That recommendation was the subject of a partner vote last month.

The firm would not reveal to Lawyers Weekly whether there were other contenders for the joint-CEO roles.

The new CEOs replace the inaugural CEOs of the merged firm; Sydney-based Gavin Bell and London-based David Willis.

Bell and Willis both announced in September that they were leaving the firm on 1 May.

Bell suffered a health scare in February last year, which is believed to have influenced his decision to stand down.


Not just an outpost of London

When the merger was announced in June 2012, senior figures from Freehills were at pains to paint a picture of a merged firm with no power imbalance.

“We don’t see this as a UK firm arriving in Australia; we see this as us entering into a merger with an international firm and our clients have responded very positively to that,” said Mark Crean, chairman of the Freehills board at the time.

Bell also called the tie-up a “merger of equals”.

Rigotti was the head of banking and finance at legacy Freehills from January 2004 to November 2005 and head of corporate from November 2005 to February 2008. He held the role of Australian managing partner for clients until the merger with Herbert Smith in October 2012.

Leydecker was head of disputes at legacy Herbert Smith from April 2005 to October 2012 and became global head of disputes following the merger.

The announcement comes as HSF prepares to implement a new partner remuneration system, which includes an Australia-specific component that attempts to hold on to the firm’s top performers.

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