Cash alone does not tempt associates

Last year we launched our inaugural City associate attitudes survey. The findings surprised anyone who assumed that junior and mid-level lawyers were obsessed with money; the firms they consistently ranked top were not the stony Wall Street practices but genial internationalists like Baker & McKenzie.

Catrin Griffiths

A year on, austerity has, perhaps, made respondents more outspoken. Nearly 40 per cent of associates at US firms admit they joined primarily for the money, compared with last year’s 23 per cent. However, the recruitment pool is shallow; I’ve written before about the gloriously self-limiting nature of some US firms’ hiring policies. A small number of them don’t give a second glance to anyone outside Oxbridge or – if the white-shoe firm is feeling daringly diverse – the LSE.

What about partnership prospects? Woeful at Dechert and inconsistent in other Wall Street practices, but very, very good at Hogan Lovells, Bakers and DLA Piper. Of course, these are very different animals – all but Bakers in the latter list are UK firms that merged. Of the associates at UK firms surveyed, that golden transatlantic trio was top choice for 42 per cent. As the survey suggests, UK associates aren’t overtly hostile to US firms; they just don’t want them to be too, well, American. (Suspicion can go both ways, of course. Fulbright London partners’ negotiation of an opt-out from Norton Rose’s UK LLP last week shows that business imperatives don’t always trump cultural suspicion.)

It was notable in the responses from the associates that the next best performing firms – White & Case and Latham & Watkins – were some way below DLA, Bakers and Hogan Lovells. However, one outfit that might seriously want to address its London brand are those happy-go-lucky fellows at Davis Polk; not one female associate put the firm top of her would-join list.

But back to the money. Bingham McCutchen, Weil Gotshal & Manges and Kirkland & Ellis pay their NQ lawyers between £97,000 and £100,000, but only 7 per cent of UK associates put Bingham in their top five, while Weil and Kirkland managed just 3.3 per cent. For all the predictions of the demise of associate lockstep in the face of ferocious US headhunting, UK firms don’t have to get into a defensive salary war just yet.