Grapevine

Now and again a lateral hire hits the legal scene and shakes it to the core.

Big name moves have, over the course of the last 12 months, come predominantly in the field of corporate.

Remember how shocked the market was when Peter King upped sticks from Linklaters to Shearman & Sterling? King seemed to have been so entrenched at Linklaters that even the vaguest possibility of shaking him loose seemed impossible.

But Shearman had a few of tricks up its sleeve. Not only is it a premier player with a great London practice, but luck and great timing most certainly helped.

Unfortunately for Weil Gotshal & Manges, while it had one of these attributes – ie one hell of a London office – luck and good timing proved elusive when it came within a hair’s breadth of taking on Clifford Chance’s corporate star Mathew Layton.

It has been a well-known ‘secret’ in the City market for months and months that the private equity rainmaker and his colleague James Baird has been in talks with Weil Gotshal. So exciting was the prospect that even lawyers in the somewhat isolationist US legal market have been chattering about it.

Certainly, things got very close to the wire. It was only last month when one decided not to leave Clifford Chance, dashing Weil Gotshal’s hopes. It would seem that Layton and Baird would only move together or not at all.

The sad thing is this would have been an amazing move for Weil Gotshal. Layton is well known for not only being a leader in his field, but also for possessing a stellar and undyingly loyal client base, including the likes of Permira. It also would have been a sad thing, a massive blow even, for Clifford Chance, where Layton’s influence and respect within the firm cannot be underestimated.

As it turns out, this is rather a boost for Clifford Chance. Layton and Baird would have been remunerated to around the $2m (£1.1m) mark as part of the top bracket of partners at the US firm. The fact that they decided to stay is, some may argue, testament to their loyalty.

How will things move forward now? Well, it is understood that Layton is taking a well-earned sabbatical which has been planned since he stepped down as UK head of corporate over a year ago.

For Weil Gotshal, the search goes on. But it is certainly worth mulling over what might have been.