Revealed: the reasons why UK associates join US firms - and it's not just for money

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  • The sub-headline is rather misleading. Saying that 'twice as many men as women join US firms to improve partnership prospects' sounds like an interesting and surprising piece of research, but then it becomes apparent that only 3% of women respondents thought their partnership chances would be improved, vs. 6% of men. These are very low figures, and the difference between the two could easily be explained by statistical noise.

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  • Very interesting stuff.

    We have 22 specialist divorce lawyers and 20 are female. I think people are drawn to firms for differing reasons and it can be dangerous to separate them by gender rather than personality type.

    It is a common mistake for law firms (and the public!) to think that lawyers are mainly motivated by money. Most are not.

    They are motivated by involvement, respect, flexibility, challenge and fairness. Money is part of that but not as important for most as most think.

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  • The reason I joined was just short of 100k a year for a NQ. I rated my chance of making equity partner at the MC as low/zero; I rate my chance at my US firm of making equity partner as low/zero. Perhaps the most interesting anecdotal evidence that I have is that i'm probably working less hours than I would be at a MC firm.

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  • It also rather confuses proper US firms with Hogan Lovells and DLA Piper who are just each two mid market US and UK law firms using the same brand. Joining either of them is no different to joining another mid market UK firm. Joining a proper US firm, like Latham, is a whole other kettle of fish, in terms of everything but most notably pay.

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  • This article is nonsense. If only one person moving from a UK to a US firm did it for the 'partnership opportunities' then the title "it's not just for money" holds true. The Lawyer is simply telling us something we already know: most people move to US firms for the money - shock.

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  • Fully agree with anonymous 11:05, if a comparison were made between average hours worked at US firms vs MC firms in London, I 'm convinced you would find that MC associates work the same, if not more, hours that US firm associate.

    The myth / misconception that hours are worse at US firms is a result of the spiel often given by MC senior assiciates / partners either to dissuade juniors from moving across or, in the case of associates, to rationalise their decision to stay.

    I think a study into why/how US firms in London can afford to pay 30-40% more than MC firms would be very interesting.

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  • Andrew have you spoken to most lawyers?! Well done on blaming the public for the misconception though!

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  • Having worked at both US and MC I can say that the extra pay does not make up for the massive dip in quality of work (US firms in London, with the exception of one or two and even then only in a few discrete areas, simply do not have the same relationships or brand power in the City and the quality of work you do reflects that).
    Most people are pretty switched on and appreciate that the US firms pay a premium because there is more of an "on-call 24/7" culture (sister's wedding, your own wedding! holidays etc). You might not end up working more hours (although I did - by far) but the attitude to Blackberry is, in my experience, completely different and this may or may not be worth an extra £900 a month (in the end, it wasn't for me).
    I worked at a leading NY firm and I have friends still there and some others at other NY and LA firms, and almost without exception they moved for the cash.
    The article refers to DLA and Bakers - they are not really US firms. Bakers is a global swiss verein (the "subway" of law firms) and DLA has a similar model, it's not really a US firm at all (more of a global eversheds). Ditto Hog Lov. Just a mid-tier city firm who got into bed with a yank.

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  • Vintage! [Sigh] When will lawyers wake up and realise that employee engagement is not soley about remuneration. A quick lesson. Countless surveys have found that 1) Recognition; 2) Alignment with the organisation's mission and values; and 3) Communication (to and from the individual) are the key motivators. Money, therefore, is only part of recognition. This is why lawyers are often so keen to know what their peers are earning and often move jobs simply to be paid the market rate or - for the more career minded and competitive ones - to get ahead of the market rate. But this is only part of recognition and the will to be recognised the same as - or above - their peers. Therefore, if a law firm thinks it can outwit its oppenents by simply paying more rather than improving the other apsects of lawyer engagement then they are likely to fail. Accordingly US law firms are probably offering more than just better salaries. This is born out by the female response in the survey (and additional questions on the 23% who opted for money as a prime motivator would probably reveal how money was a key motivator).

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  • I still believe that money is the main motivation as to why associates move.
    I question the utility of training at a US law firm when, in most instances, the range of practice areas is significantly narrower and the formal training is more haphazard. I wonder if associates who have trained at the US firm eventually get sidelined due to the arrival of better trained ex-MC associates?

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  • The survey should also have dug into the seniority of those who move. I doubt any NQ or junior associate these days seriously considers partnership prospects when they apply somewhere. They would also sound ridiculous if they bring that up in an interview at a MC or top US firm.
    Also, agree with the above post that the quality of deals at US firms is nothing compared to MC. Up to you whether it's worth the money or not. Sorry, I mean partnership prospects...

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  • I work at an international office of a 'real' US firm. I've asked a few of the English associates why they chose a US firm over a magic circle. Their responses typically included statements like "I don't have the right background to succeed at a magic circle", or "I'm not posh enough to work at the magic circle" or "They wouldn't consider someone like me".
    How depressing. Why would any top grad, even a painfully posh one, want to join a crowd like the magic circle? The MC sound pre-modern compared to their US peer firms - more antiquated institutions than leading-edge businesses.
    What's so great about the US firms? Sure you get smashed about, but generally the structure and relations between people is flat, open and casual. The money is a great motivator too, specially given the short shelf life of most associates big law careers.

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  • @ 5:25pm Nonsense. It is all about money. Any one of those factors that you list (recognition etc) can be relegated/removed and compensated for with more money. However, remove salary and how many out there would do the job full-time pro-bono because they received recognition or because the firms values were aligned with their own?

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  • I once read an interview with a partner at a top US firm who had moved from a MC firm who said that the biggest difference between the MC and a US firm is that lawyers in US firms say " f**k " and no-one bats an eyelid.............oh and the mullah

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  • In my experience, over the last 20 years, there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of MC associates and an increase in the quality of US firm associates. I think that this is because the US firms have been acquiring the knowledge management expertise of the more established UK firms, and also hiring excellent partners (especially in the funds space). We use (and, indeed, prefer) certain US firms to certain MC firms because their associates are better. I have found it interesting that some commentators think that the work that my firm does is "not of a high enough quality" - that is not what the MC tell us in pitches.

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  • "Accordingly US law firms are probably offering more than just better salaries"

    Yep. More appreciation, more bluntness, less contempt, less emphasis on social background...

    Simply put, people prefer working at US firms for the same reason they prefer working with Americans than with Brits!

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  • To me US firm associates are, in fact, better trained. More responsibility, more hands-on work, less 'departmentalization', in short they are generally more flexible, well-rounded lawyers.

    The big difference is the lesser degree of leverage in US firms in terms of staffing and what this produces in the long run. MC firms have a 'Mexican army' approach to staffing which is really not ideal in terms of growing as a lawyer.

    So while MC associates do, of course, provide high-quality work, they are generally less commercial and self-reliant.

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  • @ Me | 11-Apr-2012 9:57 am

    No, really. The point wasn't that salary doesn't count. The point was that salary is only part of it. To put it another way, take away everything and leave just salary and you won't be a happy legal bunny for long. Trust me. I'm sure people are solely motivated by money but take away quality of work; clients; personal development; management prospects; family life; health and salary becomes less important. Therefore, I suspect that the US firms are offering more than just a great salary. Otherwise those revolving doors would be doubling as the next alternative to wind farms.

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  • "The reason I joined was just short of 100k a year for a NQ"...."Perhaps the most interesting anecdotal evidence that I have is that i'm probably working less hours than I would be at a MC firm."

    What a shame that you lawyers are allowed to earn 100k without knowing the difference between "less" and "fewer"...

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