CC’s Brosnahan buy-back highlights tax demand

Great news: tax just got sexy. It’s fair to say most lawyers regard their tax specialists with a mixture of awe and incomprehension. But tax lawyers are no longer pigeonholed as the obscure boffins, or even as the awkward ones who always ask the bolshie questions at partnership retreats. They’re now firmly at the top of headhunters’ lists.

This year’s M&A boom has meant an enormous amount of work for tax lawyers. And by and large, that’s what is keeping them at the big City firms. The variety of work involved in structuring deals has become a major incentive to hang on in there.

“We’re finding it incredibly difficult to get good tax associates,” mourns one rather glum managing partner of a major US firm in London. “There’s such an uptick in M&A the mid-levels seem much happier because they’re getting a better range of work. And they seem to be getting promised partnership to stay.”

Naturally enough, Clifford Chance is in transports of delight at being able to buy back junior partner Michael Brosnahan. Doug French – universally acclaimed within the firm for being the tax lawyer you’d never guess was a tax lawyer – has presided over one of the most profitable groups in the firm. His successor, David Harkness – or in this case his colleague Jonathan Elman, who did most of the persuasion on Brosnahan – presumably wielded the usual emotional arguments, this time with success.

Whatever Clifford Chance has promised or not promised Brosnahan – and there’s plenty of speculation about that – it has had to deal with some turbulence in that group in the last few months. James Anderson left for Skadden, and there have been several departures at the senior associate level.

But Clifford Chance isn’t half as worried as Cadwalader, which must be spitting. First it lost head of tax Anthony Davis to Gide’s London office in January this year, and then Clifford Chance bought back Brosnahan last week.

And let’s not forget that there’s history there – the Cadwalader office was set up on the back of a Clifford Chance restructuring team, two of whom – Adrian Cohen and, later, Philip Hertz – were bought back and later became partner. When you think that Cadwalader would already have paraded Brosnahan’s arrival to clients, it’s not an entirely comfortable situation at all. Unless you’re a tax lawyer, that is.