Mayer Brown takes London to its heart

There are over 70 CVs piled up in Mayer Brown’s London office. Chairman Paul Theiss explains why the City is en vogue.

Paul W Theiss
Paul Theiss

“I have a question,” starts Mayer Brown chairman Paul Theiss when asked why there’s been so much movement in London. “Why does The Lawyer have to focus so much on who has left and who has joined?” 

I explain that an unusual number of leavers or joiners indicates something is going on at the firm – such as conflicts over money, or a lack of work. Theiss seems satisfied with that answer and moves the conversation along. After all, he says, the journalist is supposed to be asking the questions.

Like many partners at Mayer Brown, Theiss is charming and unstuffy. He asks the question in a light-hearted way, despite the office making no secret of finding the coverage of its 2012 London departures frustrating. The firm was plagued by a string of exits and redundancies in the UK last year, but London senior partner Sean Connolly has since made good on his promise to drive change.

”We sat down with journalists and search executives 18 months ago and said to them, you are going to see change,” points out Connolly.

“We are managing change, and that will mean there is partner movement over time both into and out of the firm,” adds global head of real estate Jeremy Clay.  

This desire to grow has arrived bang on cue. Not long after Connolly swore there would be change, the office attracted a number of lateral partners – four have joined in the last two weeks, with sources telling us to expect at least two more in the firm’s finance group. This compares to five laterals in London across the whole year in 2012 and 30 globally. 

Has the firm’s London base stumbled upon a bag of gold? ”We are an international firm and clearly market conditions in different regions, as well as our long term strategy, influence our hiring, and the timing of that hiring,” explains Clay. In other words, the London market was flat last year, and London can’t always be the apple of an international firm’s eye.

So what exactly has changed? There’s got to be more to this than London simply getting more work than the year before. When the firm’s global management committee met up in June this year, they drew up a new strategy document which had the City at its heart. For the next three years, growth in the major financial centres of London, New York and Hong Kong will be the strategic focus. 

“In the last 12 years we’ve essentially changed who we are,” outlines Theiss. “Today half our lawyers are based outside the US. This year we tried out the idea of regional retreats which included two-day get togethers in Frankfurt, Los Angeles and one in Hong Kong at the end of this month.” 

It’s all very nice that London has been pinpointed as a focus for the next few years, but it still doesn’t explain why so many quit Mayer Brown in 2012. Some sources say exits have been down to income partners pushing for equity, not getting it and moving on for higher salaries. There’s also the fact that the first six months of the 2012 financial year were unusually quiet, causing global revenue to fall from $1.13bn (£751m) in 2011 to $1.09bn in 2012.

Now work is picking up again, would the firm change its remuneration model to compete with US rivals? 

“The income partner to equity partner progression model works best in an expanding market,” explains Connolly. “The challenge for firms is to adapt that model to the changed environment.”

Meanwhile firms looking to merge continue to prod Mayer Brown for interest. Could they be tempted?

”A merger isn’t currently part of our strategy,” closes Theiss with a cheeky grin. 

Comings and goings at Mayer Brown

London leavers 2012: Inclues reinsurance litigator Ian McKenna to Locke Lord (29 October 2012), structured finance partner Stephen Day to Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft (24 August 2012), corporate partner William Charnley to King & Spalding (5 July 2012), leveraged finance partner Neil Caddy to Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy (August 2012) and finance partner Nicola Marley to Minter Ellison (2 May 2012).

The firm also launched a redundancy consultation among support staff (21 September 2012) after announcing plans to cut some 20 lawyers and staff from its London office in May (4 May 2012), a process that ultimately saw the departure of 16 people. 

London joiners 2012: The London office took on longstanding Ashurst partner Martin Wright to fill the new position of European real estate head in November (15 November 2012), months after picking up CMS Cameron McKenna real estate finance partner Chris Harvey (19 March 2012). The firm says it made five lateral partner hires in London during 2012.

London leavers 2013: US firm King & Spalding established a financial services regulatory practice in London with the addition of Mayer Brown partner Angela Hayes (3 September 2013). Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft hired finance and banking practice partners Bruce Bloomingdale and Jeremiah Wagner (18 September 2013). 

London joiners 2013: Partner hires in recent weeks include Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) banking and finance partner Richard Todd (7 October 2013), Allen & Overy (A&O) senior associate David O’Connor, White & Case’s international corporate finance partner Greg Stonefield and SJ Berwin real estate partner Patricia Jones. Two more partners are expected to join the firm’s finance department in the coming weeks.