Legal eagle turned master poacher

A former star of a blue-chip City law firm is now allying himself with a US invasion, writes Patrick Hosking

TO HEAR Maurice Allen speak of the big blue-chip City law firms, you would not think that until 15 months ago he was a partner in the biggest of them all, Clifford Chance. Nowadays, he is little short of contemptuous of such firms.

"In a sense, they make money in spite of themselves," he says. "They've become safe, bureaucratic organisations that are very poorly managed. It's very difficult to get decisions made. The partners have a job for life, and some of them are not terribly good. To be honest, being a partner in a big City law firm is boring."

Moreover, he adds, there is deep frustration building up among the thirtysomethings in some of the biggest firms who are coming to the shocking realisation they are not going to become partners: "In many cases the firms have misled these people."

All this is grist to Allen's mill. He is in the business of poaching such people and is finding the terrain fertile. Allen is setting up the London office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, one of the biggest law firms in the US.

It is perhaps the most serious attempt by a US firm to muscle in on a highly lucrative City market - in this case legal advice to banks.The territory has until now been dominated by Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Linklaters & Paines.

In the anonymous world of Square Mile lawyering, 39-year-old Allen is a star. At Clifford Chance he was made a partner at the age of 29 - a record that still stands. Before his 30s he had clinched two important clients for the firm: Chase Manhattan and Bankers Trust - each worth more than pounds 3m in annual billings. He then went on to advise Citicorp, which was restructuring News Corp's $9bn of debt - a saga that saw Rupert Murdoch come within a whisker of going bust. But disenchanted with Clifford Chance, he quit in October 1994 to go travelling.

A year later, Weil Gotshal recruited him and his former Clifford Chance colleague Martin Hughes to spearhead its drive into London. They were soon joined by lawyers from Freshfields and Allen & Overy.

Last week, Allen was beaming over his latest coup - recruiting Nia Morris, a capital markets expert, from Linklaters & Paines. "At partner level, it's virtually unique for Linklaters to lose someone of Nia's calibre. It just doesn't happen. They have found it very hard to accept."

So far, 15 lawyers have been persuaded to desert secure jobs with the big London firms for the comparative insecurity of Weil Gotshal's fifth- floor offices at London Wall. "We're at a fairly advanced stage with another dozen," says Allen.

New recruits have been attracted by the entrepreneurial style of Weil Gotshal, plus the chance to make more money. In a typical blue-chip London firm, partners begin on between pounds 120,000 and pounds 160,000 rising to between pounds 300,000 and pounds 500,000. The "lockstep" system of earnings gives continuous pay rises to partners, regardless of individual performance.

By contrast, Weil Gotshal operates American-style rewards, which are purely merit-based. The junior partner may start on just $300,000 (pounds 199,500), but the stars can make $2m a year if they bring in the business.

Weil Gotshal is investing up to pounds 5m in the new London operation and is prepared to wait three years before expecting a profit. Other US firms such as White & Case, Sidley & Austin, and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy have already established modest operations in London. "This is the next stage," says Allen. "We're not going for a niche. We're going for a mainstream area." He expects to offer all kinds of legal services to the banks, from mainstream lending to project finance and derivatives.

The firm officially opens for business on 1 March. But already, Allen says, he has had assurances from Citibank, Chase Manhattan, Bankers Trust, Merrill Lynch and Swiss Bank Corporation that they intend to use the fledgling firm.

Unlike other professional services, where corporate clients tend to stick with one or two advisers, banks seeking legal advice spread their largess much wider.

Over the course of a year, a big bank will use as many as 20 law firms, putting the bulk of work with a preferred four or five. Allen's poaching spree has put more than a few noses out of joint in the more traditional London firms. There will rejoicing in some corners of the City if he fails - and much copycatting if he succeeds.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn