Partner and Team moves in the SW legal market
Published: 05 Mar 2018 By Matthew Goodwin, Chadwick Nott
Here at Chadwick Nott we have always been heavily involved in the senior level legal moves everyone gets to see in the market every year. Of course, the sudden blaze of publicity on the new firm’s website or the article that appears when the move is picked up by the legal media is always the very end of the story. We have often been involved for months by then, helping ‘make’ the move for everyone concerned. I guess our work is normally over and done with by the time everyone else hears about what is happening!
In this blog, I thought it might be useful to take a quick look at what tends to drive a Partner or indeed a Team level move, so what the key discussion points tend to be, what the market conditions are like at the moment at the senior level in the South West, and perhaps the key advice we would give anyone thinking about making such a move, above and beyond giving us a call of course!
Current market conditions
To a certain extent law firms are always interested to hear from Partner level candidates. Hiring a senior individual, especially if the person is well-known in the local market, is always a matter of bragging rights and can be seen as testimony to that firm’s health, reputation, the belief that the firm is ‘going places’ and a good firm to want to be a part of. At the same time, hiring a senior level individual is of course generally a pretty expensive thing to do and over the last ten or so years we have certainly seen firms start to think far more carefully about the justifications and the ‘need’, the costs, whether they will get a return on the investment etc. In the past firms would take the opportunity to hire someone senior and exciting and figure out what to do with them later... not anymore.
In 2017, the Partner recruitment market was steadily busy, and the Chadwick Nott SW team was heavily involved in a number of successful moves, many of which have indeed ended up in ‘newsflash’ articles and press releases. Bristol is often where we see a ‘big Partner’ move with a heavyweight individual wanting to swap big firm A for perhaps big firm B or C, but we have also worked on similar moves in a number of other locations this year including up in Cheltenham, across in Cardiff, in both Somerset and Devon and right down on the South Coast.
There remains an appetite to be ‘opportunistic’ for the right individual, with the right practice area skills and experience. Real Estate, Corporate and Commercial, specialist areas of Litigation practice, and indeed specialist areas generally such as Pensions or Financial Services or an area like Agriculture for example are all areas where we know a good individual will certainly generate interest.
It is important to bear in mind if you are a Partner, perhaps thinking about a move for greener grass somewhere new, you won’t necessarily see the new opportunity you are looking for being openly advertised. Actually, firms rarely advertise and look to recruit ‘out in the open’ for a senior/Partner level hire. They network far more quietly and will use an agency like Chadwick Nott to potentially introduce people and make a connection. So Partner level work often involves being pro-active, and open-minded, at an early stage. We look to facilitate discussions, and it can sometimes involve plenty of coffee and exploratory chats, but it is all done sensitively and confidentially and a conversation that doesn’t move forward today... well no harm done and you never know in the future.
The key things that will always crop up will be why you’re potentially looking to make a move, the work you do and the clients you act for, what you know about the firm and why you’re interested in them, and finally how expensive you’re going to be and crucially what you can offer that will help make the maths add up... yes, the dreaded question about your following!
A following is a difficult part of the conversation, because at best it is making predictions with fingers crossed, at worst it is a question that is impossible to answer. But you will get asked anyway, and some of the firms already have in place minimum requirements when it comes to a Partner following and therefore whether a conversation will have any legs at all. So you need to have thought carefully about your clients, the regular clients especially, the clients that routinely generate work and therefore fees for you. How long have you acted for them, and how loyal are they? Do they also use others? How much in fees do they produce in a normal year (if there is ever such a thing)? And is the loyalty, if push comes to shove, with you or is it really with your current firm? Would they potentially stop using firm A to be able to carry on working with you personally at firm B or C? Of course, you won’t ever know for sure until after you have made a decision, but you can make an educated guess.
The reasons and motivations for a firm move vary at whatever level, but at the senior level there are some common themes. It is sometimes flight from a deteriorating situation at the current firm, whether that is the current firm struggling or just what feels like a lack of ambition and progress, or it might be you are being squeezed out for new blood coming through, or to get a higher pay packet off the balance sheet. It is often a personal wish to keep progressing and a sense there is a better platform out there for you, perhaps working with a new range of clients or working alongside new Partner colleagues you have long-admired. Sometimes it’s a local firm who are clearly doing incredibly well and you know you want to be a part of it, and sometimes it’s just time for something new such as a move to the South West.
Key things to think about
You need to think about what you are worth to another firm, and your clients are certainly a part of that as explained above. In addition, what sort of role do you want at a new firm? Do you want to be left alone to get on with the job of being a ‘lawyer’ and the work for the clients you love, or are you keen to get involved in the running and the strategy of the new firm, leading a new team, bringing new people through?
You will need to have a look at your current covenants and what restrictions they may place on you if you do leave to join another firm. You may well have a 6 months’ notice period so you need to factor that in when you are starting to dream of the new opportunity and perhaps a quick pain-free resignation and a ‘leaving do’ next Friday... it doesn’t work like that very often.
Finally, and most importantly, have a long, hard think about why you’re contemplating a move? What is it about your current role and your current firm? How fundamental are the problems, and could they actually be easily solved with some sensible conversations? Do you really, genuinely want to leave? We do act for many Partner level candidates who come to the firm conclusion they are sure they want to move and they secure a fantastic role with new challenges and responsibilities at a new firm, and never look back. Sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, there really are better options out there if you look.
How we help
If you think you might like to better understand your options and opportunities, the best advice is talk firstly to a discrete, professional and well-connected agency like Chadwick Nott. Many of our SW team have been working in the SW market for well over 10 years so we know the people that matter and they know us. We can explain the process and the potential timeframes, we can stress-test your thinking for you if you need us to, we can help you put together a CV and business case information, and we can suggest ideas and perhaps conversations to have and we can then make those initial enquiries for you if you want us to, all with the necessary emphasis around confidentiality.
We are bound to be involved, behind the scenes, in plenty more senior level moves across the SW market during 2018 and some might make headline news while others will just be the right move and the perfect new challenge and opportunity for the person involved. The career-defining chapter in their career they haven’t had yet!
If we can assist you and you might appreciate a no obligations discussion, please get in touch... we are happy to have a chat and will be happy to help if we can.
Matthew Goodwin: 0117 917 1872 or firstname.lastname@example.org.