With the exception of Slaughter and May, every law firm has built parts of its business by recruiting external senior talent. Some, such as Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), have been flamboyantly hiring laterals during the recession, much to the incomprehension of its rivals.
Others, including Taylor Wessing (TW), have attracted slightly less attention. But as we report on page 4, TW has recruited an astonishing 16 partners in under two years, and like BLP it will have to confront a whole series of integration issues down the track.
That said, BLP managing partner Neville Eisenberg and his TW counterpart are too canny to assume that hiring senior lawyers solves the problem in itself. By contrast, there’s a persistent assumption by less savvy US firms wanting to make a splash in London that to build a business – especially in corporate – they require stars. So when Latham & Watkins global executive committee member Bill Voge goes on the record about his desire to recruit magic circle M&A partners (see feature, page 14), you might assume he won’t be happy unless he gets Mark Rawlinson or Matthew Middleditch through the door. Indeed, one legal market consultant argues that Latham actually “needs” a big-hitting marquee name partner, because its corporate profile is too low.
Frankly, this is nonsense. Latham isn’t primarily after trophy hires – it’s more grounded than that and can afford to take the long view. Voge and his clan are aware that one of the reasons many US firms have not been able to grow in London is because they have naively assumed that celebrity recruits have portable clients, something that is all too rare outside private equity. Indeed, those trophy hires are often mavericks, whose arrival at their new workplaces often engenders a potentially catastrophic mismatch of expectations, financial greed being one – and the latter is something that is only to the advantage of the more unscruplous type of headhunter.
Latham wants magic circle partners not just for a bit of stardust, but precisely because they are used to working on integrated, cross-practice and cross-border deals, where client relationships are actually diffused across the firm. It’s a bit more pedestrian, but it’s infinitely more grown-up. And terribly British, of course.