Wednesday, July 16, 2008

If You've Been a Government Bigwig, What Do You Do Afterwards?

My question is prompted by Lord Falconer's recent hooking up with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher as "senior counsel". That means he isn't a partner but looks like one. Gibson's PEP is running at $1.9m. He is going to become a member of the firm's dispute resolution team.

He is one of a line that is growing. The former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith QC, joined Debevoise & Plimpton within the last year. And some years ago, Margaret Thatcher's cabinet colleague, Lord Howe, consorted with Jones Day.

There is a reluctance for these former barristers to return to the Bar. Some others have rejoined the Bar, eg. Michael Howard and some other lesser known Conservative ex-ministers.

If you have been in government for any length of time, then there is no organizational infrastructure to fall back on. In effect, one has to start over. That is stressful. Given that outlook, it is not unexpected to see these lawyer-politicians searching for a graceful, relatively easy re-entry to a profession that fails to reward public service in quite the same way as perhaps the US legal profession views its door revolvers.

Of course the big one is Tony Blair who last practised law so long ago, he wouldn't know where the courts were let alone know how to argue a case. (And given his highhanded attitude towards the law, he'd probably end up in the dock rather than being outside it.) His alternatives were Middle East envoy (but with no effective pay), the rubber chicken dinner talk circuit (profitable but not to the same extent as Bill Clinton), and now a senior advisory post with JP Morgan because of "his unique perspective on global political issues and emerging trends". He's reputed to be getting $1m for his part-time post.

There are more barristers in government than solicitors. Whether this is because those with political ambitions choose to become barristers or vice versa, I don't know. Whichever it is, barristers know that they can't necessarily return to the position they previously possessed before government.

One comment made to me in my research on barristers' clerks, is that no matter how eminent or senior or however highly remunerated, a barrister is always fretting about where the next case will come from. Some obviously love the insecurity of the star performer. Others prefer to cash out in a more secure and comfortable environment.

But one question I can't answer is why they are all joining US firms and not British ones? Do they know something the Americans don't?
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