Welcome to the latest round-up of lateral partner moves in the legal market from Edwards Gibson; where we look back at announced partner-level recruitment activity in London over the past two months and give you a ‘who’s moved where’ update.
This edition concludes our Lateral Partner Moves for 2020 and we have included some facts and figures below comparing the year’s partner-level recruitment activity with that over the past ten years.
A summary of 2020
2020 saw a total of 375 announced lateral partner moves – 16% down on the 444 moves we saw in 2019 and 13% off the ten-year average (430). Although law firm lateral recruitment is clearly down, as we have previously observed, given that the UK has experienced its sharpest economic contraction in 300 years, the market has remained surprisingly resilient.
The most prolific hirer of 2020 was Addleshaw Goddard, which entered the recession in rude financial health deploying some of its £80 million cash surplus to fund no fewer than 10 laterals, followed by Goodwin Procter and Orrick,which each took 9 partners apiece.
By contrast BCLP had the highest rate of attrition, losing 11 serving partners in 2020, followed by Kirkland & Ellis, Pinsent Masons and Sidley Austin which all parted ways with 7 partners.
|Top partner recruiters in London 2020
(inclusive of moves from non-partnership)
|Firms with largest attrition in London 2020
(partnership to partnership moves only)
|Goodwin Procter||9||Kirkland & Ellis||7*|
|CMS||7||Allen & Overy||6*|
|Latham & Watkins||7||CMS||5|
|Squire Patton Boggs||7||Mishcon De Reya||
|Stephenson Harwood||7||Stephenson Harwood||
*Includes a lateral move from the Hong Kong office into partnership at another firm in London.
In addition, Alston & Bird, DLA Piper, Mayer Brown, and Taylor Wessing each nabbed a half-dozen lateral partners in 2020.
The largest team move of 2020 was Goodwin Procter’s raid on Sidley Austin, which netted it a five-partner private equity team, followed by Orrick’s capturing of a four-partner energy sector team from Watson Farley & Williams. Although smaller in scale, New York firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel’s snatching of a three-partner finance team from Allen & Overy, and Greenberg Traurig’s two-partner launch of a London disputes offering, led by Mishcon de Reya’s market leading finance disputes head, were of particular note.
Two other firms made three-partner team hires in 2020: Forsters, which took a real estate team from Orrick, and Brown Rudnick, which scooped up a corporate offering from Baker Botts.
Other high profile individual moves included Skadden’s poaching of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s co-head of global M&A and, in what is only its second ever London lateral hire in modern times, Slaughter and May’s welcoming of Danske Bank’s head of litigation and enforcement into its lockstep.
Also of note in 2020
- 26% of laterals (97) were female - the proportion has remained more-or-less constant over the past five years;
- 5% of all moves - 19 in all - were in-house lawyers moving into law firm partnership;
- Including those moving from in-house, 100 lawyers moved from non-partner roles into partnership (27% of the total number of moves in 2020).
November - December 2020
This bi-monthly round-up contains 58 lateral partner moves – up 32% on the 44 we saw during the same time period in 2019 (although 4% fewer than the cumulative five-year average for the same period – 61). Edwards Gibson does not record law firm mergers, as per our Partner Moves Methodology, so our round-up does not include the 27 partners from TMT boutique Kemp Little which it was announced in November would be subsumed into Deloitte Legal.
Top hirers in this edition were Atlanta headquartered Alston & Bird, which having launched its London office only last year, has nabbed four partners for its fledgling offering, and Reed Smith, which took three. Significant for its rarity, this round-up sees the über-conservative Slaughter and May, announcing its second ever London lateral partner hire in the form of litigation and enforcement specialist Gayathri Kamalanathan from Dankse Bank in Copenhagen.
Also of note in this edition, Latham & Watkins snatches Travers Smith’s private equityhead, Paul Dolman and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett hires Allen & Overy’sco-head of antitrust, Antonio Bavasso. Historically conservative inits lateral hiring, Simpson Thacher has become positively trigger happy this year as the New York firm chalks up its fourth London partner hire of 2020. Nevertheless, in a sop to its pride, and in a reversal of the increasingly one-way traffic from the magic circle to US law firms, Allen & Overy itself reclaims an alumnus in the form of Shearman & Sterling’s head of commercial disputes, Susanna Charlwood.
Market Outlook 2021
In previous editions this year we have highlighted at length why, despite a COVID-induced global recession, the fall in London lateral recruitment would be mitigated by two main factors: law firm’s inherent ability to hedge their businesses to benefit from COVID-induced workflow, and disruption-induced voluntary and involuntary movement of partners. To this we could of course add central bank largess, which has created an extraordinary debt fuelled stimulus.
Having now learnt how to work remotely, Big Law will doubtless continue to benefit from the above and, relative to most other industries, will outperform, offsetting what would otherwise be a much sharper fall in lateral recruitment in 2021. Nonetheless, as discussed in our April 2020 edition, in absolute terms, for scores of law firms and thousands of legal personnel, things are likely to get worse.
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