IN A SERIES of swift manoeuvres that will see Freehills’ chief executive officer depart the top-tier firm, litigation partner Keith Steele has been appointed new litigation practice group head, replacing Peter Butler who has been promoted to the role of managing partner.
The moves will see Butler closely support recently appointed CEO Gavin Bell, who will take the helm at the end of the financial year in July this year.
Outgoing CEO Peter Hay has not yet publicly announced his future plans, and it is so far unknown whether he will find a new role in a competing firm.
Earlier this year he said it was always his plan to resign later this year. “It was always my intention to remain in the CEO role for around five years and maximise my contribution over that period. I am pleased to be leaving the firm in very capable hands,” he said.
Hay announced he was “delighted” that Steele has agreed to assume the role, which is said to involve, among other things, client relationship management for a number of key clients, and the career development of over 300 partners and solicitors within the firm.
Steele said he is looking forward to continuing practising as well as leading the litigation group. His focus, he said, will be on ensuring a continuation of the high levels of technical excellence and that “we all do what we need to do, head where we need to head, achieve what we all aspire to, and enjoy it”.
The new lateral hire follows the recent appointment of Bell to the position of CEO, which followed a comprehensive selection process that Freehills chairman Geoff McClellan said “considered a list of exceptional internal and external candidates”.
His comments following Bell’s appointment should have shed light on his plans for further manoeuvres. “This outcome highlights Freehills’ strong succession planning process,” and “positions us to be able to capitalise on the strong skills and background of key internal professionals,” said McClellan.
Hay, as well, said he believed it was in the best interests of both the firm and clients to “rotate senior management positions from time to time in order to bring new and diverse skills to these roles”.