Linklaters set for second partnership restructuring since 2009

As many as 35 partners affected as City giant launches shake-up

Linklaters is set to carry out the second restructuring of its partnership in three years, with some within the firm predicting up to 35 departures from the equity globally over the coming year.

The magic circle law firm announced the restructuring to London partners last Friday (2 December), stating that it will consist of a combination of exits and de-equitisations.

No formal indication of numbers was given to partners at the meeting; however, informally, partners expect up to 35 equity partners to be affected globally, with London expected to bear the brunt of the shake-up.

Up to 20 partners are thought likely to go in London according to one partner in the firm, with transactional practices expected to be heavily hit. It is unclear how many will be de-equitised.

The exercise marks the firm’s first formal restructuring since the Linklaters’ New World programme in 2009, which resulted in more than 35 partners going, as well as substantial staff redundancies.

Although Linklaters has no current plans for associate redundancies, it is hoping to redeploy lawyers in transactional practices that have been badly affected by the latest economic downturn to busier groups in order to protect utilisation and avoid job cuts.

The firm has already begun talking to junior lawyers about the possibility of moving to practices still seeing high levels of activity, such as restructuring and insolvency, litigation and regulatory.

The predicted scale of the partner cuts has come as a surprise to many current and former Linklaters partners, with 35 partners equating to around 8% of the 436 equity partners the firm had at the close of the last financial year. According to Legal Week’s top 50 survey for 2010-11, the firm had a total of 467 partners at the end of the year, with an average of 125 at the top of the equity throughout the year.

One partner commented: “Just under half of the entire partnership is based in London, and this simply does not reflect where revenues are coming from at present. Firm management has said that its focus will be on the emerging markets, hence the heavyweight relocations to Asia and the 
partner culls.”

One former partner said: “It took us some time to recover from the 2009 restructuring and I think it is ill-advised to embark on another such exercise so shortly afterwards.”

The restructuring comes as a review of Linklaters’ lockstep, launched earlier this year, is also expected to see the firm swell its salaried partner rank – a shift from its previous stance of moving towards a “substantially all-equity partnership”.

Commenting on the firm’s plans, managing partner Simon Davies (pictured) said: “We continually look at our business and partner base in the context of the markets and our clients’ needs. A natural part of this process includes some partners moving on.”

He added: “Decisions about partner departures are entirely personal to the individual and it is therefore inappropriate to comment on speculative numbers involved. Where decisions are taken by the firm, they are taken reluctantly and only ever in the long-term interests of the firm.”

Linklaters’ plans come as law firms brace themselves for a difficult 2012, with the crisis in the eurozone expected to prompt other firms to look at both their partner and 
lawyer numbers.

Simmons & Simmons has changed its partnership deed to make payouts less generous to partners being managed out, while Legal Week reported last week that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was asking one London real estate partner to leave as a result of the economic climate. Allen & Overy, meanwhile, is set to start managing its equity for the first time since its restructuring in the wake of the 2008 credit crunch.