Foreign climbs

Convincing senior associates to leave London for offices in emerging markets isn’t always easy – unless you dangle a partnership carrot, of course.


Foreign climbsSenior associates willing to ­transfer from London to other ­jurisdictions are having their path to partnership put on the fast-track.

As The Lawyer revealed last week (28 July), Denton Wilde Sapte is drafting a formal policy to encourage senior associates to join the firm’s international offices.

The policy could even go so far as offering guaranteed partnership within a year of service outside ­London, with Dentons ­currently ­targeting the Middle East.

Other City law firms have not opted to go down the ­formal policy route, preferring instead to ;deal ;with ­promotions on a case-by-case basis.

Eversheds Middle East ;managing ­partner Chris Jobson, who recently transferred four London associates to the firm’s new Abu Dhabi base, says prospects for UK lawyers tend to be ­better once they have worked abroad.

“Hong Kong in the 1990s is a case in point, as many associates found themselves ;quickly ;reaching ­partnership locally or, when they went back to HQ, saw themselves fast-tracked as they had that little bit extra,” he says.
The Middle East chief adds that associates who enter jurisdictions that are “expanding and flourishing” generally find that their prospects will also “expand and flourish”.

“It’s for that simple reason that a formal policy for us just doesn’t seem necessary,” he says.

Norton Rose HR director David Simons also believes his firm should keep the process informal.

“We don’t go all-out to offer ­incentives to senior associates ­looking to transfer. The main thing is to make sure they don’t lose out financially,” explains Simons. “It’s something that we encourage our senior associates to do as it’s good for their careers and future prospects.”

Eversheds and Norton Rose are not alone in preferring to whisper “job prospects” in the ear of an ­associate as a way to entice them out of London. Insiders at Clyde & Co, Lovells and magic circle firms ­including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters say their firms also play the informal fast-track card.

“It’s not done overtly. So there’s nothing like, ‘Go to X and get ­promoted in two years as opposed to 10’,” says a Clydes insider. “It’s more, ‘this will give you something on your CV that will make you stand out’. At the end of the day, though, it means the same thing.”

Magic circle firms occasionally put relocation costs on the table, but again the international experience is also seen as a plus on the road to ­partnership.
Not all firms offer career ­incentives, be it formal or otherwise.

At ;CMS ;Cameron ­McKenna no offers are put on the table to move ­associates from more heavily staffed offices to those in need. The firm’s director of people and development Diane Gwynne says its associate to ­partner route is fairly even throughout its offices at the moment. As a result Camerons “does not offer ­special incentives for senior ­associates to move jurisdictions
as partners”.

But the simple message from most of the firms is: if you want to become a partner sooner rather than later, then get out of London.

Fast-tracking in the US

Julia Berris in New York

The UK firms are not alone in offering fast-track careers to senior ­associates. US firms are reviewing their secondee programmes in a bid to ­incentivise their lawyers.

White & Case, known for its widespread international network, is currently reviewing its secondment process.

The firm has a policy that all its offices must have UK, US and local capabilities, leading to the creation of a committee to explore ways to encourage and incentivise partners and associates to move around the network.

A firm source said: “The firm has focused a lot of attention on building up London as a strategic focus. Now that this office is more mature we’re exploring opportunities around the network to make sure we have the same level of quality throughout.”

Although White & Case does not operate a specific incentive scheme for lawyers to move to global offices, the firm is said to be evaluating how best to staff offices that are typically deemed less appealing.

“It’s not always easy to staff offices across the world and you do hear of firms
fast-tracking associates to partnership,” says one US partner. “Given the market volatility, it’s these offices that are busier, so it will be more crucial for firms to move lawyers to the emerging markets.”

White & Case is not alone: in the past Simpson Thacher & Barlett is known to have fast-tracked senior associates who were willing to move to London.