No such thing as easy money

Although US firms may offer vast salaries, City lawyers may find that other resources are distinctly lacking, warns Richard Tyler.

In recent years US firms have successfully tempted a string of high-profile lawyers away from top City practices by waving briefcases full of dollar bills. But perhaps lawyers should stop to make sure that the substance of the offer is as attractive as the greenbacks on show.

Jeff Gordon, managing partner of the London office of US firm Mayer Brown & Platt, was a panellist at recruiter ZMB's recent breakfast seminar on motivation at the Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane. Afterwards he told The Lawyer that more money was the one given incentive in negotiations with City lawyers interested in a move to a US firm.

But he also said that many City lawyers, especially the big-hitters, approach US firms with unrealistic expectations.

The main misconception is the level of commitment that the US-based partnership will make to expansion in London and Europe as a whole, and the lack of support lawyers can expect as a consequence.

Lawyers moving from established City practices with solid support systems and quality offices overseas are in for a shock if they think that this same structure can be quickly built at their new firm.

The English lawyers at the London office of US firm Chadbourne & Parke learnt that lesson the hard way. Now all those lawyers have moved to other firms – albeit mostly other US firms in London.

Most recently, Simmons & Simmons' head of corporate finance, William Charnley, head of tax, Peter Nias, and senior banking partner, Graham Rowbotham, left to set up the London office of Chicago-based firm McDermott Will & Emery. They should tread warily.

Though the reason for their departure is obvious – this year's The Lawyer City Fees Survey showed that partners at Simmons were taking home on average £195,000, way below other City practices – there are some danger signs.

By repute, McDermotts is an extremely well-run firm but its strengths in the US are in litigation, tax and IP. How it will support Charnley and Rowbotham's expectations of a heavy-hitting London-based corporate finance and banking practice is unclear.

Though the lure of the dollar may be attractive, City lawyers should perhaps be less interested in the size of the briefcase and more concerned with the quality of the leather.