M&A lawyers back in the limelight

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Corporate lawyers are getting a leg-up from ABN AMRO.

The legal maelstrom surrounding the acquisition of the Dutch bank is working wonders for corporate lawyers' popularity. According to the Financial Times, no fewer than six law firms in Amsterdam are involved in the case, plus a multitude of regulatory and competition lawyers in the US.

To recap - a Dutch court ruled last week that ABN can't go ahead with its plan to sell its US division LaSalle to Bank of America until shareholders have been given a chance to vote on the move. Barclays is said to be ready to sue if the deal falls through, and Bank of America is already threatening litigation after LaSalle slipped from its grasp.

"The legal process is far from over,'' Antony Broadbent, a London-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, was quoted on Bloomberg as saying yesterday.

Chris Hickey, managing director of the legal and compliance division at recruiter Robert Walters, says demand for corporate lawyers was on the rise even before the ABN affair illustrated their usefulness - particularly among US law firms working on private equity deals and European M&A.

Lawyers working on structured products still earn bigger bonuses, though. A lawyer with five years' PQE can reportedly command a basic salary of 90k a year working on either derivatives contracts or banking mergers. But while structured products lawyers at that level earn the same again in bonuses, bonuses for M&A lawyers apparently top out at 30%.

Little surprise, therefore, that M&A types are eager to reinvent themselves. Hickey says it's eminently possible, with banks and law firms seconding M&A lawyers to work on the arcane art of derivative contracts - which could be bad news if the number of lawyers working on the ABN case sets a precedent for things to come.

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