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The move of Ziva Robertson from personal wealth stalwart Withers to US giant McDermott Will & Emery is a sign of things to come in the private client sector.
Milo O’Connor of Hudson Legal says: “The private client landscape is changing beyond all recognition. A few years ago there was a feeling that you had to wait for someone to die before there was any real legal work to do and the action was in corporate, banking and real estate.”
How things have changed. The rise of the ultra-wealthy – especially those from the Soviet Union, the Middle East and Asia – means private client has almost become, dare we say it, sexy.
Having ditched private client work about 20 years ago a number of larger City firms are beginning to regroup their personal wealth capacities.
Sarah Coughtrie at DMJLegal says: “Firms that have a strong international presence are using their private client practice as a way of attracting super-wealthy clients from the Middle East, the Far East and Russia, with the aim of also advising them on large corporate matters for their international businesses.”
Dan Smith at Noble Legal adds that there’s also work available closer to home.
“The domestic private client market will increase steadily as executive salaries return to pre-recession highs,” he says.
“Due to the fact that so many firms turned their backs on this type of work for so long there is, in effect, a missing generation,” adds O’Connor.
Recruiters agree that this gap is among mid-level and senior associates.
Smith adds: “The client base is perhaps more receptive to senior associates than juniors in this sector, hence the desire to hire more senior people, perhaps possessing a higher level of confidence and gravitas.”
That said, opportunities for those more junior do crop up occasionally.
As Phil Jennings at JLegal points out, “There has been a scarcity of junior roles in the past six months, but this goes in cycles and we’re expecting it to change in the second half of the year.”
Talented partners are in luck too. Adil Lalani at Glass Consultancy notes that they are “always in demand”, particularly those with a portable client following.
Perhaps the biggest issue for private client lawyers seeking work is “the dearth of potential individuals to contact regarding moving,” says Lalani. “The limited pool means the same individuals are contacted on a regular basis to discuss similar opportunities.”
To make a big impact, recruiters recommend sharpening up a few specialisms.
Jonathan Firth, managing director at Michael Page, says: “Candidates with offshore experience are the most attractive, with increasing media attention around international wealth and tax issues.”
Coughtrie adds: “Anyone who has developed a network of solid contacts to introduce to a firm will have options. And those with strong language skills we also be in demand.”