Internet start-ups steal the UK's best IT lawyers

Internet start-up companies are luring away bright young IT lawyers – leaving law firms with retention problems in the booming area.

The trend reflects the problems affecting US firms in Silicon Valley, where lawyers are increasingly attracted to internet companies by the promise of lucrative share options.

UK lawyers at all levels are jumping ship, with many taking on non-legal roles in the growing companies.

Paul Barton, a partner in the IT and online law group at Field Fisher Waterhouse, says: “We have dot com clients who have asked whether we could identify people who can go in and do legal work or people who can join their management board. A brain drain is definitely starting.”

Chris Hoyle, head of telecoms and IT at KPMG law firm KLegal, says one of his assistants has recently been offered two positions at internet start-up companies.

“I think it's something that is increasingly going to happen,” he says.

Hoyle says there is not yet a problem recruiting lawyers into IT departments, but it is difficult to keep the good, ambitious people on board.

US law firms have increased salaries in response to the competition, with some newly qualified lawyers earning $125,000 (£77,715).

The combination of high wages in US firms and share options in internet companies is putting pressure on UK firms to find ways of persuading IT lawyers to stay.

Seamus Hoar, associate director at legal recruitment consultants QD Legal, says: “Lawyers' expertise in IP and IT is increasing and firms run the risk of losing those lawyers to their clients. There are a lot of opportunities for young, hungry entrepreneurs.”