Links’ unlucky 13 per cent

Linklaters is always newsworthy, but’s scoop last Friday that it was considering culling its partnership generated heated debate. Some context is required.

Links’ unlucky 13 per centLinklaters is always newsworthy, but’s scoop last Friday (23 January) that it was considering culling its partnership generated heated debate.

Some context is required. In our reporting of the story last week, we were very careful to say “up to 70” partner departures, because Linklaters’ ‘New World’ plan is in its infancy. Furthermore, some 30 partners retire from Linklaters every year, so we’re looking at a maximum of 40 exits on top of that. That could mean up to 15 from London in the dead areas of capital markets and structured finance and up to 25 from the rest of the network.

This is not dissimilar to Freshfields’ net partnership exits of 40 during its brutal restructure (see details).

Put another way, this maximum number of 70 represents 13 per cent of the partnership. Compare with Addleshaws, which last week announced that it was saying goodbye to 19 partners, or 11 per cent.

I have no particular brief for Linklaters, but I think some of the comments on are unfair. Linklaters has been consistently one of the most imaginative employers in the City, pouring money and time into workplace initiatives.

Neither am I downplaying the awfulness of layoffs. Last week was a particularly bleak one, with Ashurst, Baker & McKenzie, LG, Mishcons and SJ Berwin all announcing redundancies. Our rolling Legal Job Watch blog on reports that a total of 2,475 ­people are facing redundancy or are in consultation.

However, Linklaters’ thinking isn’t a kneejerk reaction to the recession. As Clifford Chance ­managing partner David Childs comments in our lead story, every major law firm is looking at restructuring its partnership. Apart from ­Freshfields, that is, which undertook its own shake-up in 2006-07 and reaped an average profit per equity partner of £1.4m last year.

And that shake-up meant Freshfields bested ­Linklaters again – something that didn’t go down at all well in Silk Street. As we report today, the competition between Freshfields and Linklaters has become an arms race between two obsessive superpowers (see story). A lot of things will change in this downturn, but old-fashioned rivalry isn’t one of them.

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