Altered states

London may seem a dream posting for a successful lawyer but does the reality of living in the city match up to the image? Is there life outside the American community or are the English as reserved as their reputation says?

According to some expat US lawyers, London may not “throb” like New York but it is a very civilised place to live. John Dickey, partner and commercial litigator with Sullivan & Cromwell, has lived in Chelsea with his wife for the last two-and-a-half years after many years “commuting” from New York.

“I miss various things such as the ballet and opera which are more accessible in New York,” he says. “There is a sort of throb in New York that there isn't here. But London is a very nice place to be.”

Corey Chivers came to London two-and-a-half years ago from Sullivan & Cromwell's Washington DC office. A corporate lawyer specialising in international securities transactions, he and his family live in St John's Wood.

Having young children has given him an insight into the differences between the two countries. His eldest son goes to the American school while his five-year-old goes to the local state primary.

He says: “I think there tends to be more parental involvement encouraged in the American school, whereas in the British school it tends to be 'leave your children with us and we will take care of the education part'.”

Fred Gander, a partner with Dewey Ballantine, specialises in international taxation. He moved to London from the firm's Washington DC office in June 1991, first living in Knightsbridge and then in St John's Wood. “I think London is just a fantastic place to live,” says Gander. “I see London as somewhere between New York and Washington. It has far more culture and theatre and international flavour to it than Washington but not quite the same fast-paced frenzy and round-the-clock work ethic that New York has.”

Gander married an accountant from Northern Ireland a year ago and they now have a daughter. He has no plans to go back to the US. “Traditionally, we have rotated people between offices,” he explains. “But I think you reach a certain point after about five to seven years when you cross a line of no return. You have developed a client base and a social life and you question whether it would make sense to go back.”

He finds London more expensive than Washington. “A lot of US lawyers are on a cost of living adjustment package so their living standards won't suffer. Given the neighbourhoods most American lawyers live in, they are doing nicely.”

Adam Rubinson is a fifth year associate with Sullivan & Cromwell and is returning to its New York office at the end of July after three years in London. He has been renting a flat in South Kensington among a “cluster” of associates from other US law firms.

Rubinson read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, from 1986 to 1987 and has kept in touch with friends from his student days. He says: “It may be difficult to open the door to English friendships but once you have they tend to be firm and long lasting.”

Although it is more expensive here, he explains: “My standard of living is higher simply because in New York it doesn't matter how much money you have, it is tough to live a truly civilised life because you cannot escape the noise, dirt and crime. Here you can.”

Laura Miller came to the UK two years ago when her husband was posted to Sullivan & Cromwell's London office. A corporate finance lawyer herself, she was still on maternity leave from Shearman & Sterling's New York office after the birth of her daughter. She joined the firm's London office a few months later.

“Our only hesitation over living here is that we are so far from our family. But London is a very nice place to bring up children. There are more parks, much less crime and it is much cleaner. If we were back in New York I think we would probably have moved to the suburbs by now.”

She found having a baby here quite different. “I had Alexandra at the Portland Hospital – it was like a hotel compared with a New York hospital. It was very reassuring to have midwives and health visitors coming to see you at home – nobody does that in New York.”

“I can remember our first Boxing Day here,” says her husband. “We didn't have anything in the house and I thought we would get a take-away. But everything was closed. It knocked me out because I could not imagine a city where they would close like that. But that is exactly how it should be.”

Irina Aronov, who came to London in November 1994 to work for Mayer Brown & Platt as an international commercial lawyer, lives in a flat in Chelsea. She says: “It has not been easy to build up a social life because I work such long hours. Most of my friends tend to be from work or people I have met through work.

“I definitely feel safer here than I did in New York. It may be an exaggeration but I feel people here are politer and softer and milder mannered and I really enjoy that. I like London cab drivers, for instance – they are very polite and know where they are going.”