American idols

So what first attracted you to that incredibly well-paying job at a US firm?

US firms have never traded much on being a lifestyle choice – not when they can simply pay so much more for their London associates than their City peers. But when we surveyed associates at international firms to find out more about their career motivations, something more nuanced began to emerge. I’ll highlight just three points.

First, gender. Twice as many men than women ranked the highest-paying firms as top of their list. The survey also suggests that women are simply less motivated by partnership than men – only 3 per cent ranked chances of making partnership as a reason to move to a US firm.

Instead, women appear to be attracted to increased responsibility and client contact, which suggests a latent frustration in the big City machines among women, who think they’ll have more direct client contact in the smaller London offices of US firms.

Second, educational background and, by extension, social background. US firms – some of which have a disproportionate number of stuffed shirts – are tiresomely impressed with Oxbridge. A quarter of respondents at US firms graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, an extraordinary percentage considering it’s just two universities out of a realistic pool of 20. So even if you did land economy at Girton, you’ll have a better shot at the dollar than if you’re a law and politics graduate from Sheffield.

Third, the firms that have invested in HR are more attractive to recruits. The number one choice of US firm among City associates is Baker & McKenzie, hardly the best payer. It’s extraordinary how it has managed to shake off its repuation of being some sort of dowdy, second-rate franchise in seven years; that turnaround in perception is helped by the fact that its semi-federal structure has been embraced so enthusiastically by the likes of Norton Rose, but also because of the breadth of its work and an emphasis on diversity, retention and training. It’s not Simpson Thacher or Skadden, which supposedly have more cachet, but those brands clearly don’t carry much weight in the recruitment market. White shoe? That’s so, like, over.