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Herbert Smith Freehills

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Find out about the history and work of British and Australian firm Herbert Smith Freehills

Based in the UK, Herbert Smith Freehills is an international law firm with its headquarters in London and Sydney, Australia. Formed in 2012 by a merger between the UK firm Herbert Smith (one of the Silver Circle of leading firms in the UK) with Freehills, (one of the big six law firms in Australia). Bringing the two major firms together has turned it into the 29th largest law firm by revenue in the world. 

The firm has earned itself a reputation as one of the most elite and selective law firms with a focus on dispute resolution. It has more FTSE 100 clients of any law firm representing nearly 40% of the hundred companies. 

Herbert Smith had a heritage stretching back to 1882 when it was established by Norman Herbert Smith. In the early 20th century, it made a name for itself with company flotations and providing advice to mining companies. It later expanded into mergers, equity and litigation. 

By the time of the merger with Freehills it was operating on a global platform with offices in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. 

Freehills could trace its origins back even further to the middle of the 19th century and the work of Clarke & Moule in Melbourne, Stephen Henry Parker in Pert and Bernard Austin Freehill in Sydney and John Nicholson in firm. 

These predecessors had a habit of maintaining open hiring practices and were happy to hire Catholics and Jews at a time when many other firms would not. They were also the first Australian law firm to hire a female partner. 

Before the merger, it had four offices across Australia and one in Singapore. 

The merger took them both to a much larger platform. It shaped the unusual form of an instant financial integration of both firms into a single partnership. This created a number of complexities including the fact that the firms had different renumeration procedures with Herbert Smith making use of the lockstep compensation system and Freehills using a merit-based compensation system.

After the merger, they began to expand. They opened a practice in Germany (pre-merger they had a partnership with Gleiss Lutz) and an office in New York City focusing on international dispute resolution work. In 2013 they opened up in Seoul (staffed by Commonwealth lawyers) and another office in Germany, which was headed up by Clifford Chances former head of litigation and arbitration practices.  

Today it has 26 offices globally and is rapidly becoming one of the most influential law firms in the world. 


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