Our history (PDF - 14.4MB)
Old hands at new ideas
We are the world’s oldest global law firm, but we are constantly reinventing ourselves.
Technological disruption, economic crises, political risk – the challenges facing the world’s biggest businesses have been the same throughout history. We know because we have been at their side for nearly three centuries, giving them the confidence to shape the future.
Read our story so far:
Our first client
Samuel Dodd appointed attorney to the Bank of England. The bank is still a client today.
The Industrial Revolution
Winter & Kaye, the antecedent of Freshfields, begins advising ‘father of the factory’ Sir Richard Arkwright, whose invention of the ‘water frame’ ushered in the Industrial Revolution.
The first Freshfield
James William Freshfield, who started his working life as a teenage apprentice to a London watchmaker, becomes a partner. His adopted coat of arms includes the archangel Saint Michael, which we still use today.
James Freshfield is made an honorary member of Lloyd’s – his firm had already been conducting the institution’s legal affairs for some time.
The precursor firm of Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber is founded in Hamburg and builds a solid ‘Hanseatic’ shipping and trade practice and through that a public international law practice. In the 1890s Stegemann acted for the Imperial German Government on the international treaty between the German Empire and the UK to transfer Zanzibar and British and German interests in East Africa.
Freshfields takes a central role in responding to the effects of a serious UK economic and social crash caused by the bursting of a railway investment bubble and the Irish Potato Famine.
Making the law
James William Freshfield (the younger) advises Prime Minister William Gladstone on the Succession Duty Act, an important inheritance tax development.
The Great Eastern
Charles Freshfield advises on contractual issues around the construction of the Great Eastern steam ship. He communicates directly with Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Building global trade
Freshfields’ international clients include the East Indian Railway Company, the Ottoman–Smyrna Railway Company, the Copiapó Mining Company of Chile, the East and West India Dock Company, Australia’s Peel River Land and Mineral Company and the National Bank of New Zealand.
The Great Depression
Freshfields is heavily involved in a commission that meets throughout the 1930s at Rothschilds to deal with the fallout of the Credit-Anstalt collapse.
Law Society president
Sir Leslie Peppiatt, who became president of the Law Society, joins the firm. His brother Kenneth was Chief Cashier at the Bank of England.
A new beginning
Old Freshfields Jewry offices destroyed by a WWII ‘doodlebug’ V-1 bomb. The firm moves to the Bank Buildings.
A German partnership
Arved Deringer, a German lawyer and politician, founded law practice in Bonn together with Claus Tessin.
Alan Redfern is hired, the first litigator in what will become our world-leading DR practice.
The Paris office opens. Another 13 offices across continental Europe follow in the next 28 years.
Partners agree to move the focus from private clients to corporate law. The lockstep remuneration model is adopted. Freshfields is regularly involved in complex corporate transformations such as the bailout of Rolls-Royce.
The New York office opens, followed by a Washington office in 1998.
Freshfields’ Asia presence is established with a Singapore office, followed by Beijing, Shanghai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
The ‘Big Bang’
Freshfields gets an enormous boost from the ‘Big Bang’ deregulation of London’s financial services markets, laying the foundation of Freshfields’ world-leading M&A practice.
Our Brussels team’s work in Europe lays the foundation of our peerless ACT practice.
Freshfields celebrates its 250th anniversary with 125 partners and more than 400 lawyers.
First German–Austrian cross-border merger
Bruckhaus Westrick Stegemann merges with Vienna-based Heller Löber Bahn & Partner to form Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber.
A merger of equals
Freshfields merges with German firm Deringer Tessin Herrmann & Sedemund and German–Austrian firm Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber to form Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. This unprecedented merger of equals brings together more than 270 years’ of experience.
The Dubai office opens followed by the Bahrain office and the Abu Dhabi office over the next three years. Freshfields has been advising clients in the UAE since its establishment.
Global financial crisis
A snowballing global banking crisis sees our lawyers called on to address unprecedented restructuring and insolvency matters, and advise governments worldwide (including drafting over a single weekend new legislation for the German government).
Freshfields is appointed as the first official legal services provider to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A global service centre
The Global Centre opens in Manchester, UK, to ensure Freshfields stays ahead in a fast-changing world. Among its services is the Legal Services Centre, a lower-cost, high-quality alternative for process-oriented legal services.
With more than 270 years’ experience globally, Freshfields continues to help clients grow, strengthen and defend their businesses – building on its history of thinking ahead.