'Try to poach him? Me?'
A Slaughter and May trainee has scooped a City of London Law Society prize for an essay addressing the threat to UK firms represented by US interlopers.
Arguing that the influx of "well-capitalised" US law firms had catalysed "unprecedented competition", Charlie Wells said they were "the key challenge facing City law firms, which must distinguish themselves to clients in order to survive".
The Company Prize 2021 is awarded annually to a promising City law firm trainee, and this year's applicants were judged on the basis of a 500-word essay entitled, "How must City law firms adapt, including through using the lessons learnt from present challenges, to thrive in the future".
Wells argued that UK firms needed to get ahead of their US counterparts by anticipating, specialising in, and publicising their expertise around growing areas of law such as climate change.
He also recommended UK firms adapt their working practices "to materially improve their working capital", giving the example of investment in labour-saving digital products.
Wells said, “I am delighted to have been chosen as the winner and I am grateful for the recognition and support I received throughout the process", while Slaughter and May told RollOnFriday, "We are really pleased for Charlie and congratulate him on his achievement. We enjoyed his essay and felt it delivered real commercial insight into the competitive challenges which exist within our sector".
In a tactful omission, Wells’ piece did not mention the gargantuan salary packages on offer from US firms as they engage in a spiralling salary war with each other, which has left UK firms gaping on the sidelines and subjected their talent and those they aim to recruit to considerable temptation.
Recent pay rises at City firms have seen Slaughter and May, along with Allen & Overy and Linklaters, paying their NQs a generous £100k when a bonus is included, while Freshfields and Clifford Chance are paying a basic salary of £100k.
However, some US firms are now offering up to 40% more. Milbank has hiked newly-qualified solicitors' salaries up to a bonkers £140,000, as have Davis Polk and Akin Gump - with other US firms expected to follow suit to keep up with their US siblings.