Firms cool over US bid for City work

TOP City firms have stayed cool over the US firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges' bid for a slice of London's legal work, despite some of their best lawyers being targeted by the firm's recruitment drive.

Weil Gotshal, which enjoys per-partner profits of up to $750,000 in the US, is also expected to offer competitive salaries to senior assistants.

Clifford Chance saw partner Martin Hughes resign recently to join former Clifford Chance partner Maurice Allen in Weil Gotshal's new office. Allen is heading a six-partner start-up team for the US firm.

Geoffrey Howe, Clifford Chance managing partner, was sanguine about the new competition. “We have 40 lawyers in New York at the moment and 500 finance lawyers in London, so we can't get too excited.”

David Ereira, head of banking at Freshfields, whose assistant James Chesterman becomes a Weil Gotshal partner, said: “It's a move other US firms have attempted to make. This is an interesting experiment.”

Weil Gotshals is planning to establish a solid base of 20 UK lawyers to compete with City firms for top clients in banking and capital markets.

Paul Downing, Pinsent Curtis' London managing partner, said: “This is probably the most significant move this year in the legal market.”