In an innovative alternative to the redundancy programmes initiated at some other City firms, Allen & Overy (A&O) is trying to redeploy an unlimited number of assistants from across the firm into its burgeoning restructuring department.

While at least two other magic circle firms have been reducing headcounts, A&O is encouraging one to five year-qualified assistants from corporate, property, litigation and other areas to take voluntary 18-month secondments into restructuring. The initiative is at its earliest stage, so it is not clear what will happen if there is insufficient take-up. An A&O spokesperson said: “It has nothing whatsoever to do with redundancies.”

The assistants have received a brochure extolling the virtues of joining the group and telling them they will receive intensive training to convert them into restructuring lawyers.

Some assistants are concerned that an 18-month holiday from their home department will hold them back in their chosen area of law, but restructuring partner Gordon Stewart said this would not be the case. “We see it as career-enhancing. Anyone who goes on secondment to a client or an international office comes back with more knowledge,” he said.

A&O has just completed the restructuring of Marconi, for which it earned an estimated £31m in fees, and has a controversial role advising both a joint administrator and a number of competing creditors on the TXU Europe administration.