Simmons & Simmons managing director Alun Morris gave a pep-talk to the firm's banking department last week after it was hit by the departure of five lawyers, two of whom were lured away by US firms offering double current salaries.

The departures of two partners and three assistants (one newly-qualified) is bound to damage morale at Simmons, coming as they do only weeks after leading tax partner Stephen Coleclough left the firm.

And firms across the City will be alarmed that other US firms are following the lead of White & Case in paying newly-qualifieds almost twice the going English rate. Newly-qualified solicitor Robert Marton is joining the London office of US firm Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy for a salary of £45,000-plus – double his salary at Simmons.

Moni Mannings, with the firm for the past two years and made up to partner last May, has been poached by US firm Dewey Ballantine, which is also believed to have doubled her salary.

As Deweys' first London banking partner she will be responsible for building up a transactional banking team.

Deweys' London office, currently with only three partners and two assistants, intends to recruit 25 to 30 UK lawyers before the end of the year.

Mannings said: “We all left for different reasons but [the departures] should not be ignored by any institution. It is not a particularly large department.”

The two partner defections brings the number of Simmons London banking partners down to nine.

Mannings said the “comfortable” remuneration Deweys offered had been an important factor in her decision but she added: “It is not enough for English firms to say 'she is just going for the money'. The reputation of Deweys is just as important.”

Scottish-born partner John Cleland, with Simmons for eight years, is leaving to join Pinsent Curtis in Leeds. He said he had approached a number of northern firms because he did not want to raise his new-born child in London. And assistant Dean Naumowicz is going to Allen & Overy and assistant Andrew Murray to Constant & Constant.

A Simmons & simmons spokeswoman said: “The banking group has been doing very well and is expanding.”

Fee income for 1996 had grown 48 per cent on the previous year and the number of lawyers had grown to nine partners and 29 solicitors.

Simmons' insurance group has recruited insurance and reinsurance partner Jeremy Wood from Davies Arnold Cooper. Wood said he would be working to expand the firm's global practice “especially in cutting edge transactions and its expansion in the international arena”.