Corporate dominates again in latest Herbies promotions

Last week Herbert Smith became the first of the big City firms to announce its promotions for the coming financial year.

The Lawyer’s research shows that in recent years corporate and M&A assistants have had the best chance for promotion to the Herbert Smith partnership. Indeed, the corporate division has had the biggest share of partnership promotions over the past five years (2003-07 inclusive) with 19 promotions. Fifteen of these have been in London, plus three in Hong Kong and one in Moscow during that time. In the same time period seven corporate partners have left the firm (although one remains a consultant with Herbert Smith), giving a net gain of 12.

Corporate associates who trained with the firm appear to have a relatively good shot at making partner because Herbert Smith – in this division at least – tends to promote from within its ranks. Ten of the 19 trained with the firm and two others arrived as junior associates.

“We’re very keen on growing our practice organically and nurturing our own talent,” declares Herbert Smith corporate head Michael Walter, who adds in the same breath: “But like most of our competitors, we’re opportunistic in identifying others.”

Female corporate associates have had less success in making it into the partnership. Only one woman, Cecile Wake, has made partner in five years. She was promoted in March 2006 and did not train with Herbert Smith, but joined as a relatively senior associate.

Although the corporate division accounts for the largest total in promotions over five years, corporate appointments have tailed off somewhat from a high in 2003, when the firm made up six associates to the partnership. This year US securities lawyer Adam Wells got the nod, along with Nick Moore, who has a quasi-specialism in corporate insurance work.

Litigation and arbitration associates have a slightly lower chance of making partner. The disputes group has lagged behind corporate in terms of organic growth: disputes has made up 15 partners over five years and has consistently seen more laterals than corporate, with five in the same time period (including Ian Gatt QC and Murray Rosen QC to set up Herbert Smith’s own chambers).

In the same time period, 14 partners have left, mostly retirements, giving the litigation and arbitration group a net gain of six.

This year’s haul was the litigation and arbitration group’s biggest since 2003,
with five lawyers making the cut: Justin D’Agostino, Tim Mak in Hong Kong, Sebastian Moore (who is an IP specialist rather than a general litigator), Nick Peacock and Nusrat Zar.

Prospects for female litigation associates have historically been poor. Zar is the first woman to be made up in the department for five years.

Associates qualifying into the real estate department have a strong chance of partnership. The division has made up the third-largest number of partners in five years, with eight promotions and just the one lateral, Pierre Popescu in Paris, set against four retirements from the partnership, giving a net gain of five.

Four of the eight internal promotions – Nick Turner, Matt Bonye, Matthew White and Jeremy Walden – joined Herbert Smith as trainees, while the rest joined very shortly after qualification. “It belies any impression that Herbert Smith doesn’t take real estate seriously,” remarks real estate partner James Barnes. “It’s a growing part of the firm.”

So what about finance, where Herbert Smith has been making strenuous efforts to grow? Prospects are better for laterals than for those who trained with the firm, with four external partnership appointments in five years: Chris Fanner and Ian Yeo from Denton Wilde Sapte, Andrew Newbery from Norton Rose and Alex Currie, who had been a senior associate at Linklaters.

In a not dissimilar vein, Malcolm Hitching moved to Herbert Smith from Norton Rose and spent a year as a senior associate before being promoted in 2005. None of this is much comfort to female finance associates; the firm has not made up a female partner in that department in the past five years.