Partner hires at London firms increased by 26% in 2021 – study

More than 130 lawyers moved from non-partner roles into partnership

Partner hires at London firms increased by 26% in 2021 – study

Partner hires at law firms in London reached new heights in 2021.

A study by legal recruitment consultancy Edwards Gibson found that 2021 saw a total of 473 announced partner moves – up 26% on the 374 moves recorded in 2020.  This was 7% above the five-year average (443) and 9% above the 10-year average (433).  

Last year was a record for partner moves aside from 2016 and 2017, the figures for which Edwards Gibson said were “disproportionally elevated due to the voluntary and involuntary number of laterals entering the market” following the collapse of King & Wood Mallesons’ European branch.

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The study also found that 133 – or 28% – of partner moves were female, while 4% of all moves were in-house lawyers moving into law firm partnership. Including those moving from in-house, 135 lawyers moved from non-partner roles into partnership, representing 29% of the total number of moves in 2021.

Kirkland & Ellis was the most prolific hirer of 2021, taking on 15 new partners, according to Edwards Gibson. White & Case snapped up 11 new partners while Addleshaw Goddard and Greenberg Traurig each hired 10 partners.
Commercial law firms have not suffered amid pandemic-induced lockdowns, the study notes.

“In 2020 emergency legislative changes as well as commercial and contractual uncertainties triggered urgent requests for legal advice and dispute resolution assistance,” states the report by Edwards Gibson. “When the economy roared back to life, aided by unprecedented government largess and unbridled optimism following successful vaccine roll outs, investor animal spirits took over. Since then, law firm deal teams have been flat out advising on corporate M&A and financings.”
Cost savings from global travel restrictions, fewer entertainment expenses and rent reductions coupled with productivity gains from the universal adoption of Zoom/Teams - as well as efficiencies in associates working from home - meant that law firm profitability rose sharply in 2020, the report states.

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