There's a third item to add to death and taxes: at some point, a corporate lawyer will turn to you and say earnestly: “We're really wanting to get into private equity.”
Get real. There have been few new entrants into this market for years and precious little mobility. Olswang's acquisition of the Berwin Leighton team and Allan Murray-Jones's move to Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom are two of the very few examples. In any case, a number of firms may be approaching building a practice in the wrong way, focusing purely on the transactional rather than the fund creation side. In the US, law firms will handle fund creation and transactions for the same houses. Over here, things are different. Look at Slaughter and May – the established funds practice and the nascent, but rather nifty transactional practice are run as discrete product lines. At Macfarlanes, too, there's virtually no crossover between funds and transaction clients – the exception being Alchemy, which it won precisely because of its funds capability.
But if trends in the US are anything to go by, then UK firms had better start building an integrated offering. Structuring of the funds is sensitive, not least because of the nature of the investor base. Much of the money now comes from US pensions funds, and the legislation governing those funds' investment and tax treatment in turn drives the way the deals are constructed. In other words, if transactional lawyers can't fit the deal into the right structure, they won't get the deal done.
Hence Clifford Chance's smart little initiative in moving funds partner Jason Glover into the heart of the transactional group. Smart, because Clifford Chance is mimicking its own clients Schroder Ventures, Duke Street and CVC, all of which have brought their fundraisers closer to the team executing the deals.
No-one else has quite gone that far, although Ashurst Morris Crisp's new reconfigured funds group (reported in The Lawyer last week) underlines the trend. Meanwhile, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has moved its funds group out of tax and (nominally) into corporate – although one might mournfully note that Freshfields' commitment to private equity is not exactly all-encompassing, even with the excellent Mr Bown. And Linklaters & Alliance? Despite circling this market for nearly two years and claims that hires are imminent, it has yet to build a team. And who is it looking for now? Why, funds lawyers.
Not that all this excitement about funds lawyers is contagious. As one corporate partner says of his boffin colleagues: “Oh, God. Putting us together with them? Can you imagine us working with them day after day?”