Banks win lawyers with the lure of shorter hours

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Money is clearly another attraction. Although a two-year qualified lawyer in his or her mid-20s may initially take a small pay cut on moving to a bank, future rewards in banking far outstrip traditional legal salaries. Apart from money, however, it is the chance to be involved in a broader range of work that encourages financially literate lawyers to move.

Ben Green, 29, was a three-year qualified assistant solicitor in the structured finance group at Linklaters. He left to go to Barclays Capital where he now works as a manager within structured capital markets. Green says he decided to go into banking because 'I wanted more all-round involvement with the deal. I wanted to get to understand the financial side of things. A lot of lawyers are uncomfortable in this business, yet the work values legal skills transactions are highly structured and a lot of that structuring is legally driven.'

He argues that although law firms offer more stable and obvious career paths, it is easier to be recognised earlier at a bank. His advice to others considering a similar move: 'You need to have a thorough understanding of the product area, especially if you want to go straight into front-office structuring and origination. You also need to be aware of IT and to be comfortable with spreadsheets.'

In some cases people decide to make the switch at much later stages of their legal careers. In June, Thomas Reid, a former partner at law firm Davis Polk & Wardell joined Morgan Stanley Dean Witter as a managing director in the corporate finance services department. Bill Tudor-John, formerly a senior partner at Allen & Overy, joined Lehman Brothers in August as managing director and chairman of the bank's European commitment committee after 33 years at the law firm.

Robert Pallache, co-head of securitisation at Nomura International, arrived from Clifford Chance two years ago. Pallache was at the leading American law firm for 18 years, the last eight as a partner in securitisation. 'I suppose I didn't change industry. I just changed my role within an industry.'

At the age of 41, Pallache was considerably older than the majority of people who decide to make the switch. He says: 'At a younger age, it is probably a fairly painless move to make. Junior lawyers will often join a transaction management group, an in-house legal team working on bond issues and syndicated loans. They will manage the documentation process with external legal counsel who are basically their former colleagues.'

Pallache says he wanted to make the change because he was bored with the legal profession. 'I'd done the job for many years and I'd got to the point where I was fortunate enough to be considered to have the right personality to work in investment banking.' Since joining Nomura, he adds: 'Several law firms have asked me to join them, but I've said no. I love what I do.'

Pallache says that his lifestyle has changed considerably. 'As a lawyer I used to start the day at 9.30am and would very often work until anything between 11pm and 2am. It's a tough business and it's damaging for older people. Nowadays I do 10 to 11 hours a day with a 7.30am start, finishing no later than 6.30.'

Nick Woolf, a director at headhunters Norman Broadbent, cautions that young lawyers with itchy feet should think carefully before going anywhere.

'Those who go into law do so for the challenge and the complexity of it. Corporate finance is a very different world.

'The important thing is to really think it through. Basically, you have to be aware that there are not that many lawyers that are all that good at origination.'

Woolf advises greater use of secondments. 'I always advise clients about hiring someone who has not worked in a bank before. People should endeavour to arrange a secondment for at least six months so they've seen it and smelled what is a very different world.'