Legal eagle lured with pounds 700,000

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A law firm has gone public for the first time over plans to pay up to pounds 700,000 a year for a City solicitor, just as the Law Society called on the PR consultant Sir Tim Bell to improve its image. The New York-based Chadbourne and Parke wants to boost its London operation and has advertised for three partners at an annual salary of pounds 200,000 to pounds 700,000. It is believed to be the first time a solicitors' firm has owned up to offering such a large pay packet.

By contrast, the man claiming to represent the small solicitor, the Law Society president, Martin Mears, has commissioned the J Walter Thompson advertising agency and Sir Tim to improve the society's plummeting standing. But the decision to consider spending possibly pounds 3m on advertising is not likely to stem a stream of complaints about Mr Mears's leadership style, which some solicitors blame for their loss of status in the first place, since he snatched the presidency on a "reformist" ticket in July.

Since Mr Mears took the society by storm there has been a exodus of senior staff and members of its ruling council. A former society president, Rodger Pannone, a personal-injury lawyer, is expected to claim at a meeting at the society today that Mr Mears's leadership is damaging the profession.

The wealth and success of City firms has always enabled them to hold themselves aloof from the travails of the rest of the profession.

The pounds 700,000 sum in the Chadbourne and Parke advertisement, putting the recipient in the Eric Cantona or company-director bracket, is likely to be the sort of money already earned by senior partners in blue-chip London firms, while top barristers already earn up to, and more than, pounds 1m.

Chadbourne and Parke's quest for staff is being handled by Joe Macrae, of the legal-recruitment consultants Zarak Macrae Brenner. It was rare for a law firm seeking partners at that level to be openly named, he said, and pounds 450,000 was the previous highest advertised salary. But Chadbourne and Parke were prepared to pay the top rate for the right person.