US firm Hunton & Williams has confirmed it has made nine staff redundant in its London office following a spate of partner exits which have seen the firm’s City base shrink by more than 60 per cent over the past three months.
London managing partner Bridget Treacy said the redundancies included one counsel, two associates and six secretarial staff, and were a direct consequence of the recent partner departures.
She suggested the exodus had been caused by a ‘refocusing’ of the London office’s practice areas, moving away from corporate transactional work in favour of more international IP and data protection work.
“We have refocused our strategy and taken some pretty deliberate decisions,” Treacy said. “These are practices where the firm already has a strong focus and an international practice. London is not a standalone UK practice – that’s not how we intend it to be. We’re looking at practices that are important for the firm as a whole.”
Sources close to the firm suggest its City headcount could fall to as little as 12 lawyers following the round of redundancies.
Key partner exits during the past three months have included corporate partner Paul Tetlow to K&L Gates, energy partners Matthew Williams and John Deacon to Hogan Lovells, and former London managing partner Martin Thomas and corporate partner Dearbhla Quigley to Chadbourne & Parke’s City office.
About 12 associates have also departed the firm alongside partners.
Despite the sharp drop in numbers Treacy said the firm was looking to build its energy and infrastructure practice, and pointed to projects partner John Simpson, who recently joined from Paul Hastings, as a key player in the City office’s new international focus.
“We are also focused on our privacy and data protection practice where we have international reach, particularly in Brussels, China and the US,” Treacy added. “We also have corporate, finance and real estate, but these are support functions.”
But a source close to the firm said its City base simply “doesn’t have the bottle” to continue with a full-service London office.
“This goes back to what the firm’s long term plans are for the office, and they are simply retreating from anything approaching a full-service English law capability,” he said. “They are just leaving enough in place to service outbound work from the US, but almost the entirety of their English law transactional capability has left, and the reason for that was that people were not feeling that practice area was being supported.”
He added: “I don’t think they’re going to shut the London office – they feel they need a London presence – but they don’t have the bottle for a fully functioning London operation. They can call it refocusing, but it’s refocusing on a much smaller scale.”