Cameron McKenna equity threat

Cameron McKenna faces a rash of departures of its most senior lawyers following proposals to change the firm's partnership structure.

Later this month partners at the firm are expected to vote on plans that will abolish the distinction between junior and senior equity partners.

Insiders fear the move could lead to senior equity partners quitting as they see their standing within the firm – as well as their profits – eroded.

The firm wants to introduce one level of equity partner with a larger bonus pool to reward high-fliers at junior equity partner level.

Sources claim that the departure of senior equity partner Martin Stewart-Smith to US firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe as revealed by The Lawyer last week, may have been influenced by the proposals.

Stewart-Smith however refuses to comment on the suggestions, stating that he was leaving for the chance to work for a “truly outstanding firm”.

Legal recruiters claim that several partners of Stewart-Smith's standing are also beginning to look at what alternative positions are available in the marketplace.

The proposal has been presented to partners as a way to increase profitability and flexibility within the firm as it heads towards becoming the single European-wide firm CMS, within three years.

Following the merger between McKenna & Co and Cameron Markby Hewitt two years ago, it was announced that the new firm would be re-examining its partnership structure. Managing partner Robert Derry-Evans downplays the proposals. He says that in reality there will be little change for senior equity partners.

“We will end up with what we have always had – a lockstep system with bonuses,” he says.

“It is incumbent on any firm to make sure that profit share between partners is as fair as possible.

“The new structure will recognise slightly better the contributions of junior equity partners.”

Derry-Evans adds that although the bonus pool will be enlarged, the effect it will have on equity partners' pay-packets will be minimal.