Opportunist knocks SJ Berwin

Reed Smith’s corporate hires signal renewed City push

Corporate partner Perry Yam’s exit from SJ Berwin for Reed Smith on 13 December, (TheLawyer.com, 14 December), signalled the end of a long-running process that dates back to the firm’s managing partner election in late 2010 – and even before then by some accounts.

Private equity and venture capitalist lawyer Yam is understood to have been talking on and off to Reed Smith for two years, during which time he lost an acrimonious management election to fellow SJ Berwin corporate partner Rob Day.

The move also signals the latest step in Reed Smith’s hiring spree, which saw 15 new partners globally in 2011. Yam was the 10th corporate hire of the year and the fifth London hire overall. He joins as Europe and Middle East private equity head and is tipped to expand the team, although he is not expected to bring SJ Berwin colleagues with him.

Reed Smith has made City hires in corporate, energy and employee incentives, as well as the high-level Middle East corporate hire of Holland & Knight Abu Dhabi managing partner Donald Moore.

Plenty has been said about the difference in cultures – and pay – between City firms and their US rivals, but the Yam case is particularly interesting.

For one thing Yam hopes to move across the Pond one day and was always bound to join a US-headquartered firm. He has been linked with a number of US firms, including Jones Day and Latham & Watkins, even while the Reed Smith talks were underway.

The second point is a matter of vision. As one of SJ Berwin’s most promising partners in the early 2000s – he was made up in 2001 – Yam was one of the entrepreneurial lawyers building up a resurgent firm that only lost its way in later years. He is still seen as a straight-talking maverick suited to advising venture capitalists and was disillusioned by a perceived lack of strategy at a firm that saw profits tumble in the late 2000s.

Those strategic difficulties have also scared off key real estate and funds partners, with one senior property partner rumoured to be talking to a direct rival.