Much is made of the long hours worked by English lawyers for US firms, but Adrian Harris is undaunted. The new partner at US firm O’Melveny & Myers’ London office already rises at the ungodly hour of 5.30am to drive to work from his Surrey home.
These long hours, and making time for his three-year-old twin daughters, mean that Harris lists his interests, such as horse-riding and playing squash, as things he used to do.
But among this list of pursuits, the 42-year-old neglects to mention that two years ago he bought a large motorbike, which he rode to work in full biker’s regalia.
A former colleague says: “It was a spectacular sight to see him come into the office in his red leathers, complaining about all the drivers who had tried to cut him up.” The source adds that Harris was “always falling off”.
Harris does a nice line in self-deprecating humour and will take this revelation in good heart. But beneath the easy-going nature he is prepared to take hard-nosed career decisions.
The insolvency specialist left Davies Arnold Cooper for Richards Butler in 1997, after seven years at the firm. This was because “to get anywhere in that firm you had to be a litigator” – a view he believes has been borne out by the recent bloodletting at DAC.
But after less than two years at Richards Butler, where he was deputy head of corporate and commercial, Harris was looking to move again. “There wasn’t a sufficiently strong banking practice, and insolvency wasn’t going to build on an international basis,” he says.
Harris’s move illustrates two related trends in the legal market – the squeezing of the medium-size firms, and the attraction of the US firms to English partners.
But he was not attracted by the Yankee dollar at first, seeing US firms as “wild cards” on his list of possible firms.
He saw a number of US firms, all of which were “serious players, with a strong intention to do something, but some seemed to me not to have their strategy as well defined as I would have expected”, he says.
These firms included some high-profile, big spending operations. But Harris joined O’Melveny, which he admits he was initially “luke-warm” about because he had not heard of the firm.
It has 700 lawyers in its US and international offices – including senior partner Warren Christopher, former secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
Reflecting its Los Angeles origins, O’Melveny is best known in the US for its work on the financial and corporate side of the entertainment industry, with Disney and Time Warner among its clients.
Harris is bringing two assistants with him from Richards Butler, and his appointment begins a period of expansion at the office that he says will see the eight-lawyer office grow to around 30 in the next two to four years.
This will involve taking on more English lawyers. “I have taken the leap of faith, and the hope is that that will make others feel more comfortable with the idea in the future,” he says.
But these new recruits will arrive too late for a flash of red leather. Harris sold his bike six months ago, and seems happy to have swapped the American dream of the open road for his new role with a US firm.
O’Melveny & Myers