Exodus of associates sparks A&O overhaul

Allen & Overy

(A&O) is set to radically overhaul its partnership track after it emerged that the firm had an assistant turnover rate of 25 per cent during the last financial year.

HR director Genevieve Tennant is spearheading a review to explore alternative career paths for associates. A&O already has a role of ‘senior counsel’ in some of its overseas offices.

Although the review comes off the back of a triennial staff survey from last autumn, it has gained momentum in recent months as the firm battles to retain disillusioned assistants.

It also comes amid the creation of the new role of ‘associate director’ to reward talented non-legal staff.

A&O plans to promote a handful of senior staff in the support functions, which comprise finance, HR, IT and marketing. It will announce the names of the new associate directors next month.

The creation of the role of associate director is designed to create a clearer career path for non-legal staff and follows the completion last autumn of a firmwide staff survey. The role will rank immediately below each of the firm’s four support group directors.

However, according to well-placed sources, the mooting of the role of associate director is what triggered outgoing leveraged finance partner Tony Keal’s infamous email. As first revealed in Lawyer News Weekly (22 June), Keal sent a misdirected email to the entire banking department complaining that assistants in his area of practice were substantially underpaid.

In the penultimate paragraph of the email, Keal wrote: “Why is the firm willing to pay ‘locally-driven’ salaries and bonuses of up to £40K to its senior support staff, but not to its senior lawyers? Over time the haemorrhaging of senior assistants has led, and will continue to lead, to a degradation of overall assistant quality.”