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CMS Cameron McKenna

Author: Legal Week

14 Dec 2009 | 00:13

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Overview

CMS Cameron McKenna claimed 13th place in the 2008 Legal Week Top 50, billing £235m in fees, setting it well on its way to achieving the target set out in three-year strategic plan target - to reach £250m in fee income by 2009. The firm also boosted partner profits by a whopping 30% to reach a new total of £655,000 - marking one of the largest increases in PEP announced to date by a major London law firm.

Camerons is a quality full-service practice that boasts respected teams across a range of disciplines. The firm can also claim to have led the field in terms of seeking out systematic feedback from clients to improve its service, a venture it started back in 1998. In 2007, the firm unveiled several initiatives clearly designed to raise its game. Notably, Camerons announced that it was to ditch its once-cherished all-equity partnership to introduce salaried partners, a move that should help improve headline profitability. The firm has also unveiled plans to increase investment in its European network, CMS, to present the grouping of nine law firms as a unified legal practice with total European coverage.

See Analysis: Little acorns, big dreams for an in-depth look at Camerons' progress.

History

The firm can trace its history back to 1779 but its modern incarnation effectively came into being in 1997 with the union of Cameron Markby Hewitt and McKenna & Co. It was, by all accounts, an initially turbulent tie-up, a factor that partially led the combined Cameron McKenna to introduce an all-equity partnership in 2000 to help bind the unified practice. Another key decision of the time saw Camerons in 1999 launch the international legal network CMS.

While the firm in the early 2000s avoided some of the problems that affected much of its peer group, Camerons has struggled to close the profits gap with many rivals. However, the firm was successful during this period in the Central & Eastern European region, where it is now regarded as a top-tier player. An early international boost came in 2001 when Camerons signed up the respected French practice Bureau Francis Lefebvre for its CMS network.

Camerons was to hit the headlines more recently in January 2007 when it announced that it was to ditch its all-equity partnership to reintroduce salaried partners. The move was clearly part of a bid to raise its profitability. The firm also announced that it was to build its strategy around heavy investment in its CMS alliance, to make the network into a slicker and more clearly-branded body that could offer clients total European coverage. To this end, the firm announced recently that it was to shut its small Hong Kong branch.

News, deals and comment on CMS Cameron McKenna

Culture

Viewed as one of the more laid-back and supportive firms, the typical Camerons partner is rather down-to-earth. The firm describes itself as "user-friendly" and "approachable", which most neutral observers would agree with. Camerons also scores well for collegiality and its treatment of staff.

Key departments/leading partners

Corporate partner Sean Watson is identified as a key figure by one contributor, who goes on to note that Watson is now approaching retirement. However, there are those In the same practice area who can take up the slack, with younger partners Jason Zemmel and Charles Currier apparently "on the rise".

New department head Andrew Sheach is consistently rated highly on private equity rankings, with his team handling deals for key clients such as ABN Amro Capital, LDC and LGV.

Over in intellectual property, "Nick Beckett is a real up-and-comer".

In sector terms, energy is an obvious strength, which helps explain that unfashionable Aberdeen outpost. In insurance, another core strength, key names include Andrew Symons, Anthony Hobkinson and Liam O'Connell. Highlighted names in Camerons' solid finance practice include Will Meredith and Andrew Ivison while Edward Benzecry, Pranai Karia and Mark Heighton are cited in real estate.

Camerons was one of the first major UK firms to go down the sector route. The firm currently targets eight sectors: consumer products; life-sciences; hotels & leisure; construction & development; energy & utilities; technology, media & telecoms; infrastructure & project finance; and financial institutions & services.

National/international coverage

Camerons undoubtedly has "a strong focus on Eastern Europe, where the firm is very proud of its 'magic circle' reputation", according to one contributor.

The reader adds: "London partners, not all united on the benefits of the CMS alliance, have been convinced of the benefits of expanding in the CEE region by the rapidly-increasing profitability of the Eastern European offices. Offices in all major Western European centres through [the CMS alliance] and Camerons is able to offer a very good cross-border service on international deals. That said, the vast majority of corporate transactions are still UK domestic."

Through the nine-member CMS, Camerons has extensive coverage in Europe. The group numbers 600 partners with offices in 25 countries (mostly in Europe) spread through 58 offices. Camerons is clear that its currently ambitions will be played out in Europe, with the firm - unusually for a major UK practice - avoiding expansion in Asia and the Middle East. Camerons' fully-integrated offices are: London, Aberdeen, Bristol, Bucharest, Budapest, Edinburgh, Moscow, Prague, Sofia and Warsaw. A Kiev arm is set to open in September 2007.

Key clients

Camerons' key clients reflect the firm's established profile in energy and insurance. The most active currently are: BP, Deutsche Bank, GE, John Laing, Lloyds TSB, Pfizer, Prudential, Royal Bank of Scotland, Swiss Re Group and Taylor Wimpey. Other clients the firm has regularly acted for include National Grid, Enterprise Inns, ABN Amro Capital, LDC and LGV.

Career prospects

Mixed. The 138-partner firm has not been among the fastest growing in recent years. However, the introduction of salaried partners in 2007 looks to be an attempt to retain up-and-coming lawyers by making it easier to promote. The firm made up 10 in its 2007 partnership round, including seven at its London HQ. Camerons is generally viewed as being more focused on promoting internally than some rivals that frequently recruiting partners laterally, which should boost partner prospects.

Salaries

Rates are "slightly behind the competition", claims one contributor, who labels the outcome of a recent salary review "disappointing". But the grass (and the cash) always seems that little bit greener on the other side of the fence, doesn't it?

The firm's current bands are:

  • Year 1 trainee: £37,500 (fixed)
  • Year 2 trainee: £41,500
  • NQ: £66,000 (fixed)
  • PQE 1: £68,200 (mid-point)
  • PQE 2: £76,200 (mid-point)
  • PQE 3: £82,900 (mid-point)

The full ranges are:

  • PQE 1: £66,000-£69,900
  • PQE 2: £66,500-£84,000
  • PQE 3: £72,800-£91,400

Lawyers also receive a time-recording bonus on a quarterly basis and all staff get an annual firm-wide bonus based on profitability.

(Can we get some feedback on how generous the bonus is? - Wiki Ed.)

Recruitment

The firm typically takes on around 40 trainees a year. Key recruitment contacts are graduate recruitment partner Simon Pilcher and graduate recruitment head Vivienne Ball. More details are available online at www.law-now.com/gradrec.

Work-life balance

A little bit better than the City average, though Camerons is perhaps not quite as laid-back in terms of hours as its image would suggest. The firm operates a 1,500 hour standard annual billing target. However, it has made great play in recent years of efforts to offer staff flexibility.

The firm currently describes its flexible work options as:

  • flexible working hours - part-time working, job share, compressed hours, non-standard start/finish time, working part of the week from home;
  • the option of childcare vouchers;
  • lifestyle management services, provided by Xecec;
  • maternity and work: all employees are entitled to 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave. This applies regardless of length of service, in line with statutory provisions;
  • parental leave: for each child under the age of five, staff can take up to 13 weeks' leave;
  • paternity leave: to help new fathers when their baby is first born, the firm provides 10 days of paid leave of absence;
  • self help and advice: a free helpline is available to staff and their family for confidential information and support on a wide variety of issues relating to work, family and budgeting.

Diversity

The firm says that 51% of its lawyers are women, though only 18% of its partnership are currently. However, that's not that bad by the standards of large City law firms.

According to one Camerons contributor, there are "plenty of British-Asian partners [but] fewer female partners than there should be and hardly any black partners".

However, the point about not enough women or black partners could be made about almost any firm in the UK top 50, so Camerons seems unlikely to be any worse than most of its competitors on this issue.

The contributor also suggests that the firm's willingness to allow fee earners to work part-time following maternity leave is linked to performance "rather than a guaranteed right".

(Is this true? If so, is it typical of City firms? - Wiki Ed.)

Pro bono/corporate social responsibility

Camerons has an established reputation for supporting pro bono. Initiatives backed by the firm include the Islington Law Centre, where the firm sends its trainees to help out. A broader range of lawyers support Advocates for International Development. The firm also supports a volunteering program with Whitmore Primary School in Hackney, which involves a reading and numbers scheme. Supports a Hackney school-mentoring program that involves students aged 14 to 16 visiting the firm's offices every week. Is currently supporting the children's charity NSPCC.

Like many law firms, has recently launched all manner of carbon-neutral, environmental stuff. Apparently, the photocopying maniacs got through 8,442 tonnes of paper in 2005-06.

Click here to post your comments on the firm, or alternatively email community@legalweek.com with any information you think should be added to this page.

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