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London’s Big Law hires near record level despite recession

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Law firm partner hires in the first two months of 2024 ran at the second highest pace on record.

According to data provided by legal recruiter, Edwards Gibson, there were 101 law firm partner moves in the first two months of this year, an increase of 7 per cent on the number of hires the market saw during the same point last year.

The report stated that the rate of hiring is the second highest on record, coming second place to 2017, when the figures were “artificially inflated” following the collapse of King and Wood Mallesons (KWM).

The data highlighted that 38 per cent of all hires were female while just below 30 per cent were hires of non-partners moving into partnership.

The most active City firm was Pinsent Masons as it hired five partners, however, it’s worth noting that Pinsent Masons lost three partners in London in the same period.

The other firms that followed were: Charles Russell Speechlys, DLA Piper, Fried Frank, Kirkland and Ellis and White and Case, which hired four partners apiece.

The largest multi-partner team move over the two months was Fried Frank as its private equity practice gained three partners, Christian Iwasko , Michelle Tong, and Priya Rupal, from Goodwin Procter.

There were five firms that hired two-partner teams: Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (corporate energy and energy finance from Locke Lord); DLA (energy and infrastructure from Paul Hastings); Hunton Andrews Kurth (energy and infrastructure from EY Law); Paul Hastings (disputes and corporate crime from Latham and Watkins); and Pinsent Masons (TMT from Deloitte Legal).

Speaking to City A.M. Christopher Clark, director at Definitum Search stated: “We’ve had the best start of any year in our history. There’s a combination of succession planning and strategic hiring but lots of increased speculative interest too.”

“Legal recruitment has always been a good early barometer of the wider market recovery, so hopefully the economy is on it’s way back,” he added.

Paul Hastings saw the highest attrition, losing a half dozen laterals in the first two months of 2024. One of the five was a partner who retired.

Others that suffered was Deloitte Legal, Goodwin Procter and Pinsent Masons, which each lost three London partners.

The data from the two first months of 2024 shows that six City law firms hired lawyers from in-house roles, as Addleshaw Goddard took onTess Kelly from the Bank of England, Bracewell (from BP), Morrison and Foerster (from Deutsche Bank), Pinsent Masons (from Royal London), RPC (from Associated Newspapers), and Stephenson Harwood (from Natixis Investment Managers).

Scott Gibson, director of Edwards Gibson said: “Despite being naturally hedged with disputes and restructuring offerings, London’s Big Law firms remain overwhelmingly transactionally focused. As such hiring at City law firms tends to reflect the strength of the underlying economy, so, with the UK now in recession, we might reasonably expect to see a slowdown in hiring relative to previous years.”

“Whilst this is certainly the case for junior lawyers, for law firm partners, hiring is at near record levels. In large part this paradox can be explained by US law firms continuing to make counter-cyclical investments in private equity related hires hoping that interest rates will fall and that dynamo of Big Law, private equity deal making, will roar back to life,” he added.

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