15 January 2001
New year, new job? Plenty of you must have resolved to update the CV, but how many of you would resort to joining the bean counters? Quite a few it would seem. Finance partners are the latest targets for the aggressive poaching of the accountancy-tied law firms, with both Andersen Legal and Tite & Lewis - Arthur Andersen's and Ernst & Young's firms - committed to building up finance.
Tony Williams has nabbed former Norton Rose partners Gilles Thieffry and Douglas Colliver, who went to the London office of Dewey Ballantine in between and joined Andersen Legal a year ago. Thieffry is the first capital markets partner to join an accountancy-tied firm, but is still on gardening leave.
Tite & Lewis, the youngest of the accountancy-sponsored firms (it launched in March last year), has hired securitisation specialist Tamara Box from the London office of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe to launch its finance capability. This week she is joined by Paul Flood, an asset finance partner from the London office of LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae. But does it all make sense? Both KLegal, the acquisitive little outfit powered by KPMG, and Landwell, linked to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), have shunned finance in favour of a corporate-based approach. After all, that is where they are best able to compete, with Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy hardly quaking in their boots at the fear of all the banks dumping them for Andersen Legal.
Andersen Legal and Tite & Lewis would argue that structured finance is where the recruitment drive is justified. Anything tax and balance sheet-driven holds an obvious attraction, they say, for clients to instruct lawyers and accountants together. In acquisition finance the accountants are always in on the due diligence, so why not use one firm? You always need banking lawyers to support the corporate deals and capital markets legal support for the financial analysis work being done by the accountants.
Andersen Legal is intent on building a high-end City practice and, having been in London the longest (since 1993), it is the most advanced. With Colliver and Thieffry, Williams is building a solid team to work with equally strong names in the European network, but he is going to need more than a few more laterals if he wants to compete with his former firm in Aldersgate Street.
Williams has gone public about the biggest problem with building up a finance practice at an accountancy-tied firm - the lack of US capability. Sources in the firm say they expect to have a partner law firm, even just a best friend, in place across the water in the next 18 months, but in the meantime building a capital markets practice will not be easy.
Ernst & Young is the most advanced on the transatlantic front, with Washington firm McKee Nelson Ernst & Young founded by two tax partners from Atlanta's King & Spalding in 1999. It still leaves a lot to be desired, and both Tite & Lewis and Andersen Legal admit that until the regulatory situation in the US is sorted out, they cannot go all out on finance in London.
Europe is where finance is a better fit. Tax practices are far more detached from their lawyer colleagues on the Continent, and Andersen Legal started its practice there when it hired Paris-based banking and finance partner Jean Thibaud from Gide Loyrette Nouel in May last year, who will work with Thieffry.
All in all, it is the people that count. Clients are not going to queue up to instruct any old Tom, Dick or Harry just because they are launching a finance practice at an accountancy-tied law firm. But if the likes of Christopher Tite and Tony Williams can woo a few big hitters, they will no doubt inherit practices to match.
If Maurice Allen and his star banking and finance team had joined former Weil Gotshal & Manges colleague Nick Holt at KLegal, it may have been different. I doubt if Holt or Chris Arnheim at Landwell would have refused Allen's advances.
Maurice Allen they might not be, but the people who have moved so far have been solid players, and you have to admire Williams and Tite for wooing finance partners when not many firms can. Whether they will be able to woo the big clients along with them is yet to be seen - if they can convince a few banks to instruct them they will surely be up and running, because the potential is there.
It depends where you are all sending those CVs then, I guess.