Move On Up: Weightmans

Laterals are favoured over internal promotions, especially in London and Manchester. And women are in luck – unless they’re aiming for equity

Over the past five years Weightmans has expanded rapidly, adding 37 partners. But for associates working their way up, the headline news is that over two-thirds of the partners added to the firm have come through lateral hires rather than promotions.

The North West firm has made up 21 partners, with just over half being women, but has hired 36 partners from other firms in the same period and has undertaken several mergers.

The promotions have ­focused on just four offices. Since 2006-07 the Liverpool HQ has gained five new partners, Leicester has had four, Birmingham four and London three.

In the past year Weightmans has gained offices in Knutsford and ­Dartford through mergers with Mace & Jones and Vizards Wyeth respectively. Manchester, though, has had no ­internal promotions in five years.

Insurance and public sector saw the most promotions, as befits the firm’s traditional strengths. In five years corporate had just one, Liverpool’s Sean Crotty in 2009. Commercial dispute resolution also saw one, Verona Cocks in 2008, and employment gained Paul ­McFarlane in 2009.

Instead Weightmans has tended to bulk up its commercial and corporate departments through lateral hires. Of the 35 laterals made since 2006-07, 14 have been ’commercial’. The remainder are mainly insurance-focused.

No partners joined in Manchester in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but in the past year insurance partner Sandra Jones from Berrymans Lace Mawer moved to the firm.

A third of the lateral hires have been made in London, which the firm has been bulking up. By the end of the 2010-11 financial year there were 34 partners in the City, including 11 women. The year ­included three ­London laterals – McDermott Will & Emery corporate partner Claire Sellars, Sibley & Co consultant William Sharpe and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain professional risk specialist Dominic Dennis-Browne.

The hires come from a range of firms. Examples include the 2007-08 hires of LG’s Colin Peck, Hill ­Dickinson’s Ian ­Vicary and DLA Piper’s Ling Ong.

Losing faces

Weightmans has had a patchy ­retention rate in the past five years, losing no more than eight partners in a ­single 12-month period. 2008-09 saw the most exits after a six-strong ­London insurance team, led by partner Mark Whittaker, left for DWF. In the same year Liverpool partners Janet McCann and David Jacks retired.

Last year six partners left, including retirees Anne Dobie and Anne Wilson. Howard Dean, hired in 2009 for Birmingham’s insurance litigation costs team, was among the exits.

Four of the 18 departees in five years have been recently promoted partners. In 2008 healthcare partner Gerard Hanratty, promoted in 2007, left for Capsticks. The team that left for DWF in London included Carys Oatham, made up in 2008, and 2007 promotion Seema Jobanputra. Last year Cocks, made partner in 2009, joined Matthew Arnold & Baldwin.

The loss of the insurance team to DWF means London is represented disproportionately in the exits list. Manchester has lost four partners in five years, while Liverpool has lost two to other firms and two to retirement.

Pay gaps

Associate pay is banded, with separate levels for London. Newly qualified and first-year associates outside the capital are paid £36,000, while those in London receive £47,500.

Pay goes up to £80,000 for top-paid City associates at four years’ PQE and £50,000 outside London after five years’ PQE.

Women’s prospects are good, with 30 per cent of partners female. A third of lateral hires and more than half of promotions have been female.

This equality does not extend to the tightly held equity. 2010-11 figures show that only four equity partners are female – 10 per cent of the equity. On the plus side, both of the London equity partners are women.

Promotions and senior hires