Bigging it up

Pools of talent. Essentially, that’s what a law firm boils down to.

In this year’s Transatlantic Elite, published today (17 May), we’ve shone a light on where the world’s leading US and UK firms are focusing their efforts at strengthening those talent pools.

We’ve tracked the geographical location and ­practice group of every partner lateral hire made by our cadre of elite firms – dubbed the ’Sweet ­Sixteen’ – since 1 January 2008. We also asked each firm for their current top three ­investment priorities.

The results make essential reading.

It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that for some the past couple of years have been ­nothing less than transformative.

Take Latham & Watkins. It’s barely more than 12 months since the firm was rocking on its heels after firing around 200 associates in one of the biggest layoff programmes of the downturn.

But now, partly thanks to its raid on White & Case, the firm has emerged as the biggest hirer of the great recession. No wonder one rival labelled the firm “schizophrenic”.
The detail of where the top firms have been ­hiring has thrown up no shortage of choice ­surprises. Take the fact that New York bastion Davis Polk has ­spectacularly grown its headcount in ­Washington DC, increasing lawyer numbers threefold over the past two years. Or that M&A titan Skadden has plumped for building a top-tier healthcare practice following the hire of Greg Luce from Jones Day two years ago to act as a catalyst.

Or that Debevoise is pinning its hopes for ­tapping the nascent US market for ­private equity ­investments into banks and bank-related assets on the hire of two banking partners from Goodwin Procter.

Where these firms lead others will follow. Although you probably don’t need to read the Transatlantic Elite to tell you that virtually all our Sweet Sixteen have Asian growth in their sights.

What’s certain, as our story on this week’s cover reveals, is that some firms are in better financial positions than others to make those investments.
Ask yourself this question: right now, if given the choice, would you rather be a partner at ­Freshfields or Clifford Chance?

matt.byrne@thelawyer.com