Bye laterals

Any US firm leaders currently weeping into their UK recruitment budgets after reading today’s cover story and main feature should take solace in the fact that they were always likely to be on a hiding to nothing when taking on the Brits in their own back yard.

Frankly, you’d expect UK firms to be better hirers in London, their home turf. But the staggeringly high attrition rate among senior lawyers moving between firms can’t fail to catch the eye.

Motive Legal Consulting’s deceptively simple research, designed to see whether individual ­laterals were still at the firms they joined up to five years later, raises several complex questions for US firms looking to build in the UK. The perennially thorny question of integration is chief among them. As the author of today’s research, Motive’s Mark Brandon, points out, too many firms spend not enough time thinking about integration.

“Lateral hires are often not planned properly,” says Brandon. “The lack of real business planning’s a killer and makes real integration almost impossible.”

And that can be an expansive mistake. The ­fearsome level of investment required to build an overseas outpost – estimated by one HR director at around £150,000 per lateral partner hire – underlines the risks inherent in growing an office piecemeal (although it’s also worth noting that Halliwells was once one of the most ardent lateral hirers in the ­market – it’s not just the foreigners who get it wrong).

On the flip side, if you happen to be a partner thinking of putting yourself on the market, today’s findings offer more than a few pointers.

Clearly, if you’re a corporate or finance lawyer you have a better chance of survival at a UK than a US firm. Whereas if you’re a litigator, tax lawyer or employment specialist it makes no difference whether you choose UK or US.

And if you’re a real estate lawyer working at a US firm you’re one of a rare breed indeed.

Ultimately it may all boil down to that dreaded word: culture. Whether it’s money, mismatched expectations or merely the correct meaning of the word ’football’, sometimes US and UK firms just don’t see eye to eye.

Today’s figures confirm what the market, for many years, already suspected.

matt.byrne@thelawyer.com;

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