Partner hiring by U.S. firms in London increased by over 25 percent in 2011, with firms adding more partners to their City bases than at any time over the last five years.
Legal Week's annual survey of hiring trends at the City operations of some of the largest U.S. and trans-Atlantic firms found there were 116 partner hires during 2011 across the 45 firms taking part in the survey. The overwhelming majority of these (101) were partners at their previous firms.
The haul represents a second year of significant hiring activity by U.S. firms in the City, with the group bringing in 91 new partners in 2010 after partner recruitment fell to a low of 67 in 2009 as a result of the recession.
While the recruitment includes a clutch of trophy names at firms such as Weil Gotshal & Manges -- which emerged as the most active lateral hirer in 2011, with nine new partners including four funds partners from Clifford Chance -- virtually all (39) of the firms taking part in the survey brought in at least one new partner in 2011, with a third of respondents bringing in at least three new recruits.
Weil Gotshal London managing partner Mike Francies commented: "We have always been full service here but we did not have a deep enough bench in areas including finance and restructuring. Fund formation was the missing piece in our private equity practice."
Other firms among the most active recruiters included Dechert, which brought in six partners, four of which came from DLA Piper, including the firm's co-head of litigation Neil Gerrard.
In addition to Weil Gotshal's funds team and recruitment of banking partner Stephen Lucas, other big moves in 2011 included Proskauer Rose bringing in partners including former Jones Day London head Russell Carmedy as well as a funds team from SJ Berwin led by Nigel van Zyl, while Bingham McCutchen recruited Simmons & Simmons' former managing partner Mark Dawkins.
Notably, around 60 percent of all of the lateral moves to U.S. firms taking place in 2011 involved partners joining from U.K. rather than rival U.S. firms.
The research highlights how firms' recruitment efforts have changed from year to year, with recent startup Greenberg Traurig Maher, which brought in more lateral hires than any other firms during both 2009 and 2010, bringing in only one new lateral in 2011 after pulling back from its full-service push.
Over the five-year period between 2007 and 2011, Reed Smith and Mayer Brown emerged as the most active lateral hirers, recruiting a total of 33 and 29 partners respectively.
The research excludes a number of further hires made in 2011 for two U.S. firms which only formally launched in London in January this year: Vedder Price and Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, which hired seven partners from Salans for its debut.
Ropes & Gray London co-managing partner Maurice Allen commented: "Over the past year, U.S. firms have benefited from the attendant uncertainty at some of the top U.K. firms, primarily within the Magic Circle."
Reed Smith European and Middle East managing partner Roger Parker said: "Many international firms have renewed confidence following on from the post-Lehman Bros. negative phase for international legal services, particularly on the transactional side of their practice."
Brown Rudnick, Bryan Cave, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Fulbright & Jaworski, Hunton & Williams, McDermott Will & Emery, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Morrison & Foerster and Wilmer Hale all declined to participate in the survey.
Most active lateral hirers 2007-11:
Reed Smith - 33
Mayer Brown - 29
Greenberg Traurig Maher - 28
K&L Gates - 22
White & Case - 20