Promotions: corporate wins out

Associate careers special: corporate and finance most prevalent in partnership rounds despite recession

Corporate and finance associates at the UK’s elite firms still have the biggest chance of making partner compared with other practice areas, despite the financial crisis, according to research by The Lawyer.

Corporate is the practice area into which the largest firms have promoted most. Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Lovells, Herbert Smith, CMS Cameron McKenna, SJ Berwin and Macfarlanes are among those that have given greatest emphasis to their corporate groups this year.

Finance follows close behind, with The Lawyer’s data showing that associates at Allen & Overy (A&O), Ashurst and Norton Rose had more chance of being made up in this group than any other single area.

The research shows that despite market conditions having led to a fall in the total number of promotions compared with 2008, firms continue to be ­committed to their core practice areas.

CMS Cameron McKenna managing partner ­Duncan Weston said that it was necessary to take the long-term view.

“Partner promotions are based on two key elements, business case and personal case, and it should be remembered that appointing a partner is a long-term decision, not one made on the basis of a knee-jerk reaction to market conditions,” he said.

A&O senior partner David Morley suggested that the downturn would be little more than a blip on his firm’s long-term objectives: “Our strategy for the firm remains unchanged and that means we need to invest in our core practice areas for the future,” he said.

The Lawyer’s research, however, also reveals a clear distinction between the promoting tendencies of the top 15 firms and their mid-market counterparts. In the mid-market firms corporate, which was the most popular practice area in 2008, has been overtaken by litigation this year.

But Nabarro senior ­partner Simon Johnston commented that his firm’s decision to promote two of its three new partners into litigation was motivated by more than just market conditions.

“There’s been a change of emphasis this year in the practice areas we’ve promoted into,” said Johnston. “The big thing for making partnership is the business case. Clearly there is a stronger financial case in litigation. But it also comes down to how much demand there is in an individual’s particular area and also how mature they are and how ready they are to take on a leadership role.”