SJ Berwin to rewrite partnership deed to include cross-selling

SJ Berwin is set to vote on major changes to its partnership deed under which members’ rumuneration will better reflect their ability to refer work across the firm.

Rob Day
Rob Day

The firm has circulated an amended partnership deed and could introduce the changes in time for the new financial year in May, with a vote expected shortly before that. It is understood that final conclusions are set to be presented to the partnership in the coming weeks.

The review would see the firm’s partner remuneration take into account members’ success at cross selling work, a significant gripe for the firm in the past.

SJ Berwin has a reputation as an idiosyncratic firm where client-sharing and the institutionalisation of clients is thought to be tougher than at competitors.

The firm is also planning to remunerate partners with management roles better as part of the changes.

The plans, understood to be managing partner Rob Day’s ideas, are seen as a significant culture change for the firm and, although widely popular, are still being met with some opposition from partners.

A partner said: “We’re looking at a system which basically embeds in the remuneration system […] the very things that you should do as a law firm, which includes making management roles important where they need to be, and [encouraging] referral of work to the best person to do it.”

SJ Berwin had also been considering introducing restrictive covenants that would prevent exiting partners from marketing to associates and clients.

However, although the plans have been on the agenda, it is understood that they have been put on hold, with the amended partnership deed circulated last week not containing any reference to these changes.

The firm already has rules preventing exiting partners from poaching clients and associates, but rarely enforces them. The planned changes have been seen as an attempt to bring the system in line with other UK firms.

A number of partners have left the firm for rivals in the past couple of years, with a funds teams taking some key clients with it to Proskauer Rose earlier this year (16 January 2012). However, it is understood that the firm had not made any mention of the funds practice when presenting initial plans for a restrictive covenant to partners.

It managed to keep the bulk of its key property clients when a real estate team led by practice head Jon Vivian departed for Irwin Mitchell in 2010 (24 January 2011).

The main obstacle to the potential introduction of the restrictive covenant is said to be the difficulty of introducing the change in international offices where the legal environment is different.

SJ Berwin declined to comment.