How to get the big PE bucks

Do a Ted Burke and go in-house at a private equity house, but pin down those perks

How do you get a job in private equity? Freshfields global managing partner Ted Burke’s move to Boston private equity (PE) house Arclight Capital may seem archetypal, but a switch from a top position at a magic circle firm to a major role in a large US fund might seem beyond the reach of many.

 On this side of the pond the PE in-houser is a relatively new beast; many PE companies have only begun hiring heads of legal in the past four years. These moves are not initiated by the drive to cut external spend; rather, they have been prompted by the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD) and a raft of other regulatory issues post-Lehman.

 Burke aside, the trend among PE houses has been to hire not partners, but senior associates from private practice. Just this month there have been two examples: new real estate investment fund Ashby recruited Berwin Leighton Paisner corporate associate Tom Hill as its in-house counsel, while Clifford Chance associate Michael Lampshire joined Campbell Lutyens as number two to general counsel Penny Walker.

 Hill and Lampshire are just the latest in a long line of senior associates to be scooped up by PE houses in the past couple of years, as The Lawyer’s In-House Private Equity Report noted earlier this year. In 2009 Oakley Capital appointed Ashurst senior associate Martin Bavinton, while mid-market PE fund manager AnaCap, a specialist in financial services investment, hired Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton associate Wendy Meharg as its first general counsel.

If you want to join one of the heavyweight US funds it pays to have done some time in the trenches at a US firm. In 2010 Weil Gotshal & Manges senior corporate associate Geoffrey Bailhache arrived at Blackstone as its London in-house legal head, while Bain Capital recruited Simpson Thacher & Bartlett associate Bart Gombert as its European general counsel.

 The downside of moving in-house? There may not be much scope to advance. Movement from PE house to PE house is virtually zero, since the pool of candidates is still so small. And general counsel salaries, starting at £170,000, are not as high as partners’ in private practice. 

The upside, of course, is that base salary can be spectacularly enhanced if you become eligible for carried interest.