Fraser Younson seemed to have it all. As one of the “doyens” of employment law in the City, he enjoyed the respect of his peers and the support of his firm and headed a team at Baker & McKenzie moulded in his own image. He was also, in his own words, “one of the top earners in London last year”.
So it caused quite a stir when The Lawyer revealed Younson was moving to the new London office of US firm McDermott Will & Emery where he starts work today (Monday).
It is an open secret that McDermotts is “the million-pound firm” that advertised in The Lawyer offering potential seven-figure salaries.
“I can tell you I am not getting u1m,” says Younson. But he adds that the pay is “substantially better” than he was earning at Bakers.
“Financial security was a factor” in the decision to leave Bakers, he admits, but there was more to it than that.
“I could have coasted at Baker & McKenzie,” says Younson. “At the beginning of 1998, I would have told you there isn’t life after Baker & McKenzie.”
But Younson suddenly received six approaches from other firms. Though none was suitable, he began to think there might be life after Bakers after all.
“You always think you’d like to run your own firm and this is half-way there. It’s that element of being in on something from the start with a blank sheet of paper.”
McDermotts’ offer also came at the right time. With his interest stirred, the 46-year-old Younson feared the offers might dry up. “After 50, people rightly ask the question, is there enough gas left in the tank?” he says.
Leaving Bakers after 16 years at the firm was not easy, and Younson did not go to a meeting of the Employment Lawyers Association (which he co-founded) because he was “still dealing with the emotional side” of leaving the firm.
McDermotts’ much trumpeted expansion plans have been greeted sceptically by those who question the firm’s ability to support the office in the long term.
But Younson scoffs at this reaction. “People are bound to say that because we are the new kid on the block and we are challenging the establishment.” McDermotts’ management “didn’t blink” when Younson told them what he would need to set up his department, he says.
He plans to have a department of six or seven lawyers and CVs are “flooding in”. “The fact that I have come here has created quite an interest among employment lawyers because of my prominence in the marketplace,” he says.
Younson is well aware of his reputation and is refreshingly immodest. In his quick-fire fashion he freely refers to his reputation, the ”legacy’ he has left at Bakers, and the stir his move has caused. A fellow employment lawyer confirms that “there are times when he is overly concerned with his reputation”.
Younson was brought up in Iran between the age of two to 12 and attended an Iranian school at first. “My parents were a bit surprised when I came home reciting the Koran. I moved to an American school. But then I started reciting the pledge of allegiance and I’m not sure which was worse,” he says.
Although diplomacy may not be his greatest strength, his new American bosses are likely to tolerate their new doyen’s lack of reverence.
McDermott Will & Emery