Ups and downs

The magic circle’s greatest rivals – Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters – may have reacted to the credit crunch in very different ways, but they have been similarly pessimistic in the annual promotions round.

Linklaters, which is in the midst of its New World review of its size and shape, has made up 18 new partners, down from 28 last year (6 April).

Meanwhile, the promotions round at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was the firm’s second smallest in nearly a decade. Unlike its magic circle competitor, Freshfields has not so far not cut any associates from its ranks and this year promoted just 14 to its partnership (23 March). That number was 25 in 2008.

While the firms are similar in that they have both significantly cut the number of their promotions, there are key differences between their rounds.

Linklaters, which is intent on being smaller and more profitable than its rivals, seems to be retrenching to its London base. A third of the firm’s new partners this year are based in the City, compared to just a quarter last year.

At Freshfields the story is completely different, with just two London associates making the cut, down from 10 in 2008. Jennifer Bethlehem and Piers Prichard Jones were the lucky pair, both of whom are part of the firm’s corporate practice, which saw the greatest number of promotions for the second year running.

In contrast, Freshfields international network, and continental Europe in particular, did well out of the promotions round. No wonder that Freshfields London management felt compelled to launch a two-week programme designed to re-assure junior City lawyers about their future earlier this year (29 January).

The ‘cross-fertility’ sessions were intended to encourage employees to broaden their practices and gain a wide range of experience.

“Ultimately, we want people to be as flexible as possible,” said London managing partner Tim Jones at the time. Those whose flexibility has already taken them out of the UK could well be best placed in 2010.