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Quick, name the firm with the most U.S.-qualified lawyers in London. White & Case? Baker & McKenzie? Dechert? Sorry, try again. With 68 U.S.-trained lawyers, Magic Circle patrician Allen & Overy has just passed Shearman & Sterling as London’s lead employer of lawyers holding American law degrees. That’s quite an honor for a firm that was once derided as “Allen & Overcautious” because of its hesitancy to merge. Instead of entering into a transatlantic union to build a cadre of lawyers who can manage international deals governed by American law, A&O has assembled its U.S. law group the old-fashioned way — through entry-level recruiting and selective cherry-picking. Now that the group includes 150 lawyers worldwide, Allen & Overy has outstripped all of its British rivals except for Clifford Chance. The approach seems remarkably simple: The firm generates buzz on American law school campuses by recruiting aggressively. Its roster of impressive young talent then helps to lure star lateral partners. This summer, 36 U.S. law students cycled through A&O’s London office. Most major U.S. and U.K. law firms hired no more than five or 10 U.S. summer associates. Even Shearman, the clear American leader in London, had only 20. The Allen & Overy partner behind this recruiting effort is Jeffrey Golden, a 51-year-old American corporate lawyer who settled in London in 1983, several years after marrying an Englishwoman. Golden launched A&O’s U.S. law group in London in 1994, jumping from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he was European counsel. Golden’s hiring ambitions have hardly been understated. He’s wanted nothing less than to build a world-class team of lawyers who can manage international transactions based in U.S. law. To that end, he was instrumental in wooing Cravath partner Daniel Cunningham to the firm’s New York office last March. Cunningham, the first Cravath partner ever to leave for another firm, had served with Golden as counsel to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association Inc. Though A&O suffered the defection of London U.S. securities law partner Alexander Cohen to Latham & Watkins in August, Cunningham helped lure Cravath’s environmental counsel Kenneth Rivlin, Cravath derivatives counsel Joshua Cohn, and four other lateral partners who had trained at Cravath. “In total, that’s more than half a century of Cravath experience,” says Golden. “And our headhunting fees amounted to zero. People in the halls are joking about Cravath on the Thames.” Golden’s first selling point to such potential laterals is the quality of his junior recruits, and he loves to show off his summer associate face book. With the majority of students from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford, this year’s edition features a mix of rocket scientists and clowns: one Rhodes scholar, one Fulbright scholar, the founder of the Yale Law School Court Jesters, and a law review editor who used to be a juggling unicyclist. This motley crew seems unaffected by A&O’s lateral coups. During a firm outing to a Wimbledon exhibition tournament in July, one intern looked quizzical when asked whether Dan Cunningham’s recruitment influenced his career thinking. “Dan who?” he said. What, then, makes A&O stand out in summer recruiting? Campus visits are one key. A&O lawyers plan to interview at about a dozen U.S. law schools this fall, the same number it recruits from in Britain. The in-person interview impressed Kelle Gagne, a New York University School of Law third-year. She chose A&O this summer because it was the only U.K. firm that sent a London partner to recruit on campus — and then flew her overseas to visit the home office. Positive word of mouth influenced some students. Others were impressed by A&O’s 24 branches around the world. “My jaw dropped when I saw the list of offices,” says Darren Greenberg, now a third-year at the University of Texas School of Law. Most of the summer clerks work out of London, New York, or Hong Kong. Of course, plenty of U.S. law students are immune to Allen & Overy’s charms. The five summer clerks in the London office of Latham & Watkins, for instance, spurned the advances of A&O and other Magic Circle firms. NYU student Sadik Huseny, for one, was bothered by the different salary levels that large British firms, including Allen & Overy, pay to U.S. and U.K. lawyers and summer clerks. Last year, a first-year U.S. associate at A&O made $160,000 with bonus, while a U.K. equivalent earned about $84,000 with bonus. “I was concerned with what it would do to a firm’s morale to be paid a different rate,” Huseny said at a Latham wine tasting in July. The segregation of U.S. lawyers at many large U.K. firms, including A&O, also turned Huseny off. He likes that Latham’s smaller office of 18 partners allows for more professional contact between U.S. and U.K. lawyers. At A&O, he observed, “the American group sits separately, lunches separately, and drinks separately. I didn’t want to be confined to a well-paid American ghetto on the eastern half of the 12th floor.” Actually, the lawyers in A&O’s U.S. ghetto used to sit on the fourth floor. In June management tried to address the segregation issue by scrambling offices and mixing lawyers of all nationalities and several practice groups on the third and fourth floors. Nevertheless, Americans still work exclusively on U.S. work, and they still earn significantly higher salaries than do their colleagues down the hall. It’s also true that American summer associates have virtually no social contact with their closest British counterparts. But, then, the Americans tend to be well-traveled 27-year-olds, two years into law school and ready for billable work. Because of the structure of British legal training, which features less schooling and more on-the-job tutoring, their U.K. cohorts typically are 22-year-old undergraduates, who stay with the firm for three-week internships, mostly as observers. Year-round associates do manage to socialize across practice group boundaries. The ultimate proof, suggests one partner, is that at least a half-dozen interjurisdictional A&O romances have developed. But the pay differential does concern some associates. “Reasonably, there must be a sense of bitterness,” says Jeffrey Manns, the Rhodes scholar from Yale Law School who worked on weather derivatives at A&O this summer. Manns hopes that the heavy debt burdens carried by Americans help cut the bitterness. “Realistically, there’s no comparison,” he says. “I’ve invested $200,000 in my education.” A typical U.K. lawyer will have invested about $15,000 toward tuition, plus four years’ worth of living expenses. Tensions may also have been soothed by the firmwide bonuses that A&O paid in July. Everyone’s doing well, even if some are doing better. A&O used to take knocks for being the pickiest of the four expansion-minded Magic Circle firms. While Clifford Chance compromised by joining with the relatively low-prestige Rogers & Wells, A&O quietly grew its U.S. law group to critical mass. As Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer now seem to realize, this strategy well suits a world in which the top Wall Street firms show no intentions of merging in the foreseeable future. Golden argues that a homegrown team is better than a merger partner, even an elite one, because it fits the firm culture, and it’s available to service U.S. law deals in financial centers worldwide. “A merger doesn’t get us what we want,” he says. “We need good U.S. lawyers outside the U.S. We need first-tier, and we need it here.” It looks like recruitment is getting the firm what it wants — so long as enough of those Ivy League clowns and rocket scientists sign on for the long haul.

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