The waiting game

In an uncertain world where transactions are down, it makes sense to qualify as a litigator, right?

Well, that rather depends on the firm. We’ve chosen to focus much of this week’s issue on the global contentious market. You can read more about the all-important transatlantic context as strategic benchmark of the progress of UK firms on pages 16-18, while on page 25 litigation heads from Freshfields, Allen & Overy, Ashurst and Clifford Chance offer their views on the future for their practices.

Meanwhile on pages 4 and 5, we come closer to home, analysing what the growth of domestic litigation means for assistants aspiring to partnership. The classic litigation practices such as Herbert Smith, Irwin Mitchell, Holman Fenwick Willan and Clyde & Co have all offered excellent prospects for would-be dispute resolution partners. What’s striking about our litigation promotion data is how many other City firms, such as CMS Cameron McKenna and Taylor Wessing, are now making up associates into contentious areas.

DLA Piper is now the biggest UK-headquartered firm for disputes work, totalling £270m in EMEA ­revenues. Last year more than half its promotions were litigation-related. Likewise, Freshfields – increasingly the firm that sets the pace in its litigation business, with revenues of £251m – saw nearly a quarter of new partners hail from litigation.

Compare this with three firms that have embarked on the transatlantic merger trail. SJ Berwin, which at press time was voting on its Proskauer merger, has made up just two litigators out of total of 24 in three years. Denton Wilde Sapte – now SNR Denton – has been similarly parsimonious with partnership rewards for litigators, promoting just one associate out of 20. Hammonds, which is in advanced talks with Squire Sanders, has promoted four litigators out of 38 in the same time period. It seems bizarre that the partnership committees at those firms have seen no obvious business case to make up litigators when at the same time the management teams have been seeking US mergers.

For all three firms, by far the most obvious transatlantic service line to integrate is litigation. After all, that market is now worth £12.31bn. That’s a lot of customers: time for some proper recruitment, surely?