While law is an established route into M&A on Wall Street, in London it’s less common. City banks’ first port of call when they need to hire extra M&A bankers is usually accounting firms: juniors from Big Four corporate finance teams are a strong favourite. Lawyers are only summoned when all other options are exhausted.
One London IBD recruiter, speaking off the record, says that tipping point has been reached.
“We’re starting to get calls from clients saying that they’ll accept lawyers,” he says. “They usually insist that they only want M&A lawyers or debt lawyers, but they are now prepared to accept lawyers and they weren’t a few months ago.”
The acceptance of legal candidates follows a continuation of the boom in M&A hiring in the City. In the first half of 2015, UK M&A reached $206.4bn, the second highest level on record and the highest it’s been since the first half of 2007.
As M&A has surged, bigger banks have been hiring junior staff wherever they can get them. Teams at second tier banks have been picked dry, as have accounting firms’ corporate finance groups. “There are virtually no experienced juniors left in the Big Four accounting firms,” says the recruiter. “The Big Four are having to transfer people across from audit to fill their gaps.”
Hence banks’ willingness to compromise and hire junior lawyers.
While this may be good for lawyers, it’s less of a good sign for M&A juniors in general. “The last time we had calls for lawyers was 2007,” says the recruiter. “And we all know what happened after that.”
His warning follows that of senior M&A banker Blair Effron, who said yesterday that the M&A market is overheated and warned of what might be ahead.
Another recruiter, also speaking off the record said top banks’ M&A teams contain around 20% more juniors than this time last year. However, Richard Hoar, director of financial services at recruitment firm Goodman Masson, says there’s no need for concern: “We’re not heading for a crash – hiring is still very buoyant. And there’s no shortage of junior talent – there are still a lot of people at boutiques and second tier firms and there are plenty of people who want to come to London from banks in Europe.”