Law firms ready(ish) to welcome back bankers

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Investment bankers with a legal background can be forgiven for eyeing their former employers with a certain wistfulness: banks' business is evaporating, but law firms are still going strong. Freshfields, for example, posted a 40% increase in profits per partner last week. Unsurprisingly, some of the lawyers who opted for banking careers are now thinking of retracing their steps.

"There's a definite trend for people who are working as lawyers in investment banks to consider a move back to law - the reality is that in the current environment law firms are a slightly safer place to be," says Siobhan Lewington, a headhunter at search firm Fox Rodney.

According to Lewington, numerous lawyers moved into structured credit and CDOs, where their attention to detail equipped them to work on often complex deals. "They have either been made redundant or are concerned that they may be made redundant and are interested in moving back into law again," she reflects.

Law firms are apparently prepared to rehire errant lawyers, although Lewington says the jobs are only in "pockets". Colin Jones, at search firm Napier Scott, says those pockets include bankruptcy, restructuring, litigation and insolvency.

Law firms are also paying more now - headhunters say a senior associate at Allen & Overy can now earn 200k, which would have been unthinkable five years ago.

One financial services lawyer cautions about putting too rosy a gloss on the situation, however: "It's a difficult market for law firms too - no one is being let go yet, but I'd expect to see layoffs if the slowdown continues."