Weil Gotshal limbers up for all-out assault on City firms

The fourth largest law firm in the US, Weil Gotshal & Manges, is planning to more than triple the size of its London office over the next few years, bringing its strength to about 100 lawyers by the year 2000.

The expansion plans are among the most ambitious drawn up by a US firm operating on this side of the Atlantic.

The next phase of Weil Gotshal's build-up is expected to come when it establishes a corporate department to complement its banking and capital markets practice, built from scratch since last autumn.

Previously, Weil Gotshal only had a small operation in the UK, linked to Nabarro Nathanson. But in 1995, the link was severed and it decided to compete on its own with established firms in the City.

Weil Gotshal has recently recruited Andrew Norwood from Allen & Overy who is to join as an associate with responsibility for tax. It remains on the lookout for a tax partner and for someone specialising in project finance.

Its recruitment plans will move into gear towards the end of the year when it begins to trawl for corporate lawyers to service US companies involved in merger and acquisition activity in the UK and Europe.

Weil Gotshal has an impressive client list in the US which includes groups such as General Motors, Westinghouse and US West.

In the UK, the newly-created banking team has attracted clients such as SBC Warburg, Bankers Trust and NatWest Capital Markets.

Managing partner Martin Hughes, recruited from Clifford Chance, said the initial investment in starting the London practice is between £5 million and £7 million.

“We hope to be profitable after three years,” he added.

Maurice Allen, who also joined from Clifford Chance last year, said he is anticipating about 100 lawyers will be on board in about five year's time.

Weil Gotshal may soon take more office space at its new London headquarters at 99 Bishopsgate, which has re-opened after being damaged by an IRA bomb.

Allen said: “We want to have excellent clients and to offer a quality service. But we do not believe in being big for the sake of it. Too many City firms find it hard to say no to work and spread themselves too thin.

“We plan to be selective in what we do and build up in areas where we are particularly strong. For example, we do not want to expand into areas such as aviation or property.”

Most of Weil Gotshal's lawyers are from the UK although two are US partners on secondment. The plan is to recruit mainly UK personnel as expansion gathers pace.