This year’s Independents may not have the revenue scale of their larger cousins but many in the group are characterised by their ability to attract talent from firms in the Top 100, as the full report highlights.
While not all of the firms in the lower half of the UK 200 ranked by revenue have made major lateral hires, over the past year several have not only grown headcount via recruitment but have also brought in partners from some of the world’s biggest firms. This trend underlines the attraction of a number of the high-performing firms in the Independents ranking.
Notable examples include Joseph Hage Aaronson’s hire of Paul Hastings partner Michelle Duncan and the move of Latham & Watkins property partner Simon Graham to media and commercial firm Simkins.
Bates Wells Braithwaite attracted longstanding legacy Berwin Leighton Paisner (now Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner) corporate partner Murdoch Currie while Memery Crystal has made several laterals in the past year or so, picking up McGuireWoods partner Hed Amitai, Squire Patton Boggs partner Carl Rohsler, White & Case partner Stephen Ravenscroft and Dentons partner Zarko Iankov.
Outside London, Yorkshire firm Schofield Sweeney recruited Stewarts partner Matthew Fodler while Michelmores partner Caroline Taylor joined Stone King in Bristol.
Lawyers moving from a larger to smaller firm is hardly a new trend, but it is one that seems set to accelerate amid the wider focus in the business world on issues such as work-life balance, diversity and flexible working.
As global firms get ever bigger it becomes harder for lawyers at some of the behemoths to build an individual practice and rise up the ranks towards partnership. This can be particularly true of those working in a firm’s regional offices, in many instances away from the HQ.
Meanwhile, the pressure on billable hours is growing as firms seek to eke out every last drop of profit from their associates.
Manchester recruitment consultant Mark Husband of Jepson Holt says he has shifted his business in the past year away from focusing purely on City firms to also recruiting for regional firms. This was in response to a consistent demand from lawyers for more flexibility in their work-life balance, and a perceived better chance of career advancement.
“There are always going to be fee pressures and practice pressures, but they’re much more tolerable and tend to be more tolerant,” Husband says of making a move to an Independent-sized firm.
Memery Crystal chief executive Nick Davis says his recent hires have all been seeking cultural change.
“We’re a traditional, managed partnership and believe in the power of partnership,” Davis says. “Therefore, people are incentivised to help each other. We get partners who like a collegiate culture, who like being able to move in pairs or groups, and who like to be able to give work to the right person.”
Memery Crystal has the advantage of doing a similar type of work to many of the big international firms, with a strong listed client base and both national and international clients.
“All the partners we’ve hired have international practices that fit nicely into what we’re doing,” Davis adds. “We’ve got a fully formed practice that people can plug in to and get more out of than where they were.”
Chris Harte, the chief executive of Morton Fraser which this year not only took on Addleshaw Goddard’s 10-strong Scottish private client team but also picked up Taylor Wessing finance partner Ross Caldwell, MacRoberts corporate partner Alan Meek, legacy HBJ associate Sarah Gilzean and Dentons legal director Alan Delaney, echoes Davis’s words.
“We’re not asking people not to be professionally ambitious,” he says of the hires who have joined the firm. “There’s more chance to be the author of your own success here than elsewhere, and to be more in control of your own destiny.”