Promotions go global as firms aim to diversify their offerings

Promotions go global as firms aim to diversify their offerings
As promotion rounds go, this year’s has been notable for two main reasons: first, that firms in general have made up fewer partners than they did last year; and second, that the promotions have been made across a wide number of countries and practice areas.

The magic circle has proved no exception to this rule, with all four firms making a marginal number of promotions in their City headquarters while favouring at least 11 other offices in their networks.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer stands alone in having bucked the two main trends, making up a total of 25 new partners compared with last year’s 22. Similarly, the firm has doubled the amount of promotions it has made in London – up from five to 10.

At Clifford Chance overall promotions dropped from 38 last year to 35, with London’s share dropping from 13 to 11. This is largely in line with the firm’s strategy of the past few years, with 37 promoted in May 2007 (13 of whom were in London) and 30 in 2005 (12 in London).

This year New York was a major winner of the promotions round, gaining a total of four new partners across the corporate, capital markets and tax practices.

Firmwide managing partner David Childs admits that growth in the US is a major priority, although he points out that it is broadly a matter of chance that New York has received a bumper four new partners this year. “You have to deal with the year you’re dealt,” he says.

After two years of favouring the corporate group, the firm has returned to its traditional banking focus, promoting nine to the corporate group while making up the highest number of new partners in the finance department with 10.

Geographically, Paris and Dubai fared well with three new partners each, while the firm’s Amsterdam, Singapore and Milan offices gained two partners apiece.

Pointing out that some of the firm’s smaller offices do not have tax practices, Childs says the firm’s aim is to promote into every practice area across as wide a geographic area as possible. “Our strategy is clear in that we want to be strong across six practice areas worldwide. We’re seeing very strong growth in Central and emerging Europe, and Asia and the Middle East.”

That said, there are signs of activity levels in Asia falling off. “I always thought the slowdown in London, New York and Washington [DC] would reach most of the rest of the world,” says Childs.

Clifford Chance has a number of Asia offices spread across locations such as Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo, but this year made up just two partners in the region. Singapore lawyers Lee Taylor and Andrew Brereton join the corporate and finance practices respectively.

At Allen & Overy (A&O), promotions were down from 32 last year to 28. While the firm had made up a record 33 partners in the 2006 round, that followed on from a poor showing in 2005, when just 14 partners were promoted.

Little has changed for A&O in terms of the practice areas it has promoted into, with corporate and finance receiving the bulk of the new partners – although the proportion gifted to the London office has decreased significantly.

The new partners are shared between 15 offices in 13 countries, and while last year Hong Kong, New York and Paris fared particularly well, this year the numbers are spread more evenly. After London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Moscow and Paris have gained two partners each.

This story is repeated at Linklaters, where promotions have dropped from 38 to 28. As with the rest of the magic circle, the promotions were spread widely across 12 offices, with Paris gaining four, New York and Frankfurt three each, and Dubai, Hong Kong, Moscow and São Paulo two apiece.

According to senior partner David Cheyne, this highlights the firm’s “commitment to investing in our practices globally to meet client demand”.

At the beginning of the year law firm management pledged to use geographic diversification as a means of mitigating tumultuous market conditions (The Lawyer, 7 January). It seems they have been as good as their word.