Huge US law firm start-up targets London presence by spring

Pierson: Smooth transition

One of the largest law firm launches in US legal history – a ‘distributed’ practice with over 130 senior lawyers announced last week – is set to plant its flag in London shortly.

Pierson Ferdinand is peeling away a huge number of lawyers from FisherBroyles, which was a pioneer of the model of senior lawyers leaving big firms to take control of their own practices and – at least before this mass defection – one of the 200 largest law firms in the US.

All are partners, rather than self-employed consultants as tends to be the UK model for fee-share practices, although co-founder Michael Pierson told Legal Futures that it has introduced a new level called ‘junior partner’.

“These are experienced lawyers that will work directly with partners on matters and also develop the skills needed to be a partner at an elite firm,” he explained. “This also creates a pipeline of future partners at the firm.”

Junior partners have five to seven years’ experience and, like full partners, must have experience of working in a large law firm environment, or at boutique firms or come from senior in-house posts.

Pierson Ferdinand said it has commitments from more than 130 FisherBroyles partners in over 80 practice areas to move across in the first three months of 2024 and Mr Pierson said “we anticipate that additional lawyers will join us from other law firms in 2024 as well”.

FisherBroyles currently lists 218 partners on its website, while Pierson Ferdinand has 61.

The firm expects to open a London office in the first quarter too. It already has 23 offices across the US – these are generally small presences as partners are able to work wherever they want. There are no billing targets.

The new practice has not yet explained to what extent, if at all, its operating model is different from that of FisherBroyles, where partners retain 80% of their billings.

Mr Pierson was managing partner of the global corporate group at FisherBroyles and his co-founder Joel Ferdinand was general counsel and head of the litigation group.

Both spoke to Legal Futures in 2020 when FisherBroyles opened in its London office, with Mr Pierson saying the move was integral to the firm’s plans to expand its financial services practice.

“We have a lot of US law clients who have demanded English law capability,” he said at the time. He declined to expand at this moment on the new firm’s plans for the UK.

In a statement last week, he said: “We have put our people, culture and clients above everything else. Our partners have practiced together for many years – and, in some cases, decades – and we foresee a smooth transition to, and seamless client service delivery at Pierson Ferdinand.”

FisherBroyles said in a statement: “The firm confirms it has parted company with a number of partners and wishes them the best in their future endeavours.

“As a leading Am Law 200 firm, we look forward with confidence for 2024, as we provide our clients with all the world-class legal services they have come to expect from FisherBroyles.”

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