How do you lock up your bankers and throw away the key, without stripping the cage of its gilded lustre? This is one of Lazard's many challenges as it pretties itself up for flotation.

Potential investors in Lazard will not invest unless they can be sure the dealmakers are in for the long run. That will surely mean tough non-compete clauses and tough rules on cashing out. Greenhill, the quoted boutique M&A firm, has set a high bar. Its most senior bankers have a two-year non-compete agreement - presumably as close as you can get to legal bondage in investment banking circles. And even if these rain-makers do decide the time has come to reacquaint themselves with their Hamptons beach hut, they face another stick: most are in effect blocked from selling Greenhill stock for five years.

Lazard's own rule-book is still largely under wraps. But it is intriguing that Lazard feels the need to reinforce whatever non-compete conditions it plans with a demand to its underwriters that they do not poach.

Lazard has further negotiations to overcome before it can spell out how it will keep its best and brightest. That round, currently being played out, is who gets to write the rules. This is crunch time for Lazard’s working partners as they weigh up how much

they trust their boss Bruce Wasserstein. For if they back his plan, there will be no quick escape.

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