Consistent promotions keep Berwin Leighton Paisner’s London office buoyant, while international hiring continues apace
Although Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has cast its lateral-hiring eyes internationally in recent years, there’s no denying that its London office has also experienced a meteoric rise in headcount.
Today it is home to 688 fee-earners, including 86 equity partners, 176 partners, 350 associates and 80 trainees. Although the firm’s ferocious appetite for laterals, which has seen it bring in no fewer than 11 top partners in 2010-11, 16 in 2011-12 and 13 so far this year, there is clearly a consistent retention policy driven by promoting a considerable number of associates.
In 2008 the firm promoted five associates, stepping it up a notch to seven apiece in 2009 and 2010 and then to nine in 2011 and 2012. Corporate, real estate, and litigation are the three areas where associates were most frequently made up, with 12, 11 and seven promotions respectively.
However, of those who were promoted, seven have left the firm. Five partners joined other firms, with business and technology services partners Stephen Ketteley and Vanessa Barnett opting for DLA Piper and Charles Russell, finance partner Vanessa Heap joining Pinsent Masons, corporate tax partner Julian Hickey moving to Bird & Bird and real estate partner Angus Ford defecting to Eversheds.
The other two went in-house: corporate partner David McLeish became general counsel and group head of legal at Playtech in 2012, while fellow corporate partner Keely Hibbit left to become head of Balfour Beatty’s legal group earlier this year.
Some changes in London headcount in recent years can also be attributed to BLP’s expansion, which has led to more opportunities for its partners to work abroad. Victoria Gardner, who was made up in 2009, relocated to the Hong Kong office in October 2011.
These departures, however, have more than been made up for by the steady stream of lateral hires BLP has made.
2011 saw 16 lateral hires, including poaching DLA Piper partner and head of financial services Daren Allen, tax and trusts specialist Rupert Ticehurst from Herbert Smith and leveraged finance expert Paul Simcock from Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. Most hires were from a range of firms, although there were instances where more than one partner joined from a particular firm in a matter of months. One example was the appointment of Ashurt head of construction Marc Hanson in October 2011, closely followed by banking and capital markets partner Simon Small in November that year.
In 2012 so far BLP made a large number of hires to boost its corporate and finance offerings. The firm scored a coup in February when it poached David Barnes, former global corporate head of Linklaters, closely followed by bringing in retiring Allen & Overy corporate partner Alan Paul in April. On the finance side, the firm also tapped the magic circle when projects partner Andrei Baev, who splits his time between London and Moscow, joined in January from Allen & Overy and real estate finance partner Claire Watson joined from Linklaters in April. The firm brought in some in-house finance expertise at the beginning of the year in the form of Richard Todd, formerly a director at Lloyds Banking Group.
Not all the laterals this year have been in the corporate and finance field. In April, the former head of charities at Taylor Vinters, Janet Turner QC, joined, and in May BLP brought in international arbitration specialist Roman Khodykin from Clifford Chance’s Moscow office.
There have been some other partner departures though, the most noteworthy being the raid by Simmons & Simmons that saw a five-partner finance team defect in May 2011. This was followed by the departure of corporate insurance partner Pollyanna Deane to Simmons in December last year. In March John Kelsey, joint head of BLP’s hotels group, became the latest partner to defect to the City firm.
BLP’s finance department took a further hit last year when asset finance specialists Samantha Yardley and Nicola Davies left for Watson Farley & Williams. Most recently, the firm lost private equity partner Geraint Lloyd to Bird & Bird.
BLP has just released its most recent NQ rates, revealing that its retention rate for trainee solicitors due to qualify in September 2012 stands at 80 per cent. It does not provide a breakdown across years, but the firm increased its NQ pay rate in 2008 by 4.84 per cent to £65,000, which put it on a par or just slightly below the level of most magic circle firms.
Selected promotions and senior hires
David Barnes, corporate finance
One of the star hires so far this year, Barnes was previously global corporate head at Linklaters
Claire Watson, real estate finance
Joined in April 2012, having been a partner at Linklaters since 1998
Alan Paul, corporate
Retiring Allen & Overy corporate partner Paul joined the firm in April as a consultant