Mystic Morley

Mystic Morley
“When peering into the future, it’s sometimes instructive to look at the past,” says Allen & Overy chief David Morley – and we agree.

“When peering into the future, it’s sometimes instructive to look at the past,” says Allen & Overy chief David Morley – and we agree.

Our UK 200 Annual Report 2008 magic circle feature, published online today with new profiles of the firms, takes a look into the past to assess the present and future for the group (see story).

Also included is crystal ball gazing from the managing partners of all four firms.

Morley envisages “a seemingly unbridgeable gap” opening between an elite six firms and the rest of the world – a group which Clifford Chance‘s David Child says his firm “aims to be the leader of”.

Simon Davies of Linklaters, meanwhile, predicts that “some firms will be relegated to a cadre of international firms vulnerable to fragmentation;” while Freshfields’ Ted Burke says a firm will “probably drop out of the magic circle”.

Plus: read which magic circle firm had an ‘outstanding’ 2007-08; which firm’s growth “was fuelled almost entirely by overseas jurisdictions”; which firm had more turnover from overseas than from the City for the first time; and which is plotting an equity advancement plan for lawyers setting up new practices.

Sparrow v Geffen

Ashurst has kicked off the contest for the top job at the firm, with senior partner Geoffrey Green stepping down to make way for either private equity chief Charlie Geffen or litigation guru Ed Sparrow (see story).

Both Geffen and Sparrow are Ashurst diehards, and both boast
impeccable CVs. Sparrow, however, was already a partner a year before young Geffen even joined as a trainee in 1982.

Age discrimination concerns aside, this could give Sparrow an advantage: partners may wonder whether they want to be led by a combination of managing partner Bromwich and Geffen – both spring chickens when compared to Green.

But partners will also wonder whether they want the firm, built on the back of corporate and private equity, run by a litigator pairing of Bromwich and Sparrow.

And with a downturn/recession/Armageddon looming, Sparrow could be more valuable as a fee-earner, helping out old contacts at the FSA and various financial institutions.

Who wins? Ashurst partners, you decide.

Morley in Manhattan

Earth-shaking stuff at Allen & Overy. No, they haven’t been building a CERN-style black hole in their basement, but senior partner David Morley is moving to New York.

As revealed today, Morley is going to live in the US for three months as part of the world tour of his offices (see story).

And what a time he’s picked. In the last month alone, A&O has launched a new derivatives business and has pledged to put litigation as part of its strategy.

And when the FT went big on our story on women partners on Monday (see story), which senior partner was quoted all over the place? Big Dave, of course. Talk about making yourself visible.

Heller and goodbye

Amidst all the brouhaha yesterday about women making partner in record numbers, another story may have escaped your attention.

As revealed on yesterday, US West Coast giant Heller Ehrman lost yet another partner – this time the head of its Beijing office, Joseph Cha. See story.

Cha is at least the 50th partner to have left the firm since the beginning of 2007, some seven of whom have just joined West Coast rival Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton. (See story.)

All is not well, to say the least.

As The Lawyer in New York has been noting, Heller has been in a vulnerable position for several months.

Since then Baker & McKenzie – never averse to a spot of opportunistic acquisitiveness – has taken a look at Heller and turned its nose up.

The reality is that by the time Baker & McKenzie popped up as Heller’s latest suitor, there was not enough left on the table to make the pain of a deal worthwhile. Heller, simply put, has lost too much potential over the past year.

One must question why Mayer Brown actually wants a domestic US deal with Heller. Mayer Brown ought to have enough on its plate right now, what with the Johnson Stokes merger in Asia, the internal restructure and a whole lot of tricky politics.

The perception in the US is that Heller is no longer in the first tier. The firm’s chief Matt Larrabee may balk at this, but Heller’s brand has taken a heck of a battering.

It’s still relatively strong in San Francisco, but the momentum generated by letting some of the firm’s unproductive people go has resulted in it losing some of its biggest rainmakers.

Looks like Heller will have to make a pretty persuasive pitch if it wants to find itself a deal. And let’s hope the firm’s London office – launched only last year – is part of it.

Women on the rise

Some good news to brighten a rainy, credit crunch Monday: it’s okay to be a woman in the law.

Yes, as our UK 200 Annual Report reveals, more women are breaking into the top ranks of the profession than ever before, despite the reversal of female fortunes elsewhere in the corporate world (see story)

Okay, so the X-chromosonally enhanced still lag behind the men, but unlike in business, the balance is shifting the right way.

Which makes welcome news for female lawyers at the world’s biggest law firm, Clifford Chance, where as we also reveal today, the fate of the lady lawyer varies dramatically from region to region (see story).

Boosting women is just one of CC’s aims as part of its push on corporate responsibility, the more encompassing term the firm prefers to the more usual corporate social responsibility (CSR).

But while helping women up the career ladder in male-dominated regions for the firm like central and eastern Europe might be an achievable goal, there is another jurisdiction where it could prove problematic: Saudi Arabia.

As our feature today explains, having a base in Saudi is not enough to guarantee success: the right connections are key (see feature).

And in a country where male-domination results from theocratic law, not inheritance, boosting the role of women could be a whole lot harder.