Friday, August 22, 2008

Swordplay -- A New Blog

Hat tip to Tim Evans at (ex-) Barrister Blog for a new legal and corporate blog recently online called "Swordplay". It's published by Spada, a company that consults, among other things, for the legal profession, mostly UK. They produce interesting white papers and have a knowledge bank worth dipping into.

Declaration: I was recently interviewed by them in connection with research they are doing on contested elections in law firms. Interesting topic, which was why I agreed, and usually I do the interviewing so it was fun to be on the other end this time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What To Do When You're No Longer Senior Partner

The British legal profession doesn't like older lawyers. Recent anti-age discrimination legislation in the UK hasn't altered this mindset. reported that Tim Clark, the former senior partner of Slaughter and May, had moved to a position in Mint Partners, a trading firm (equities, metals, energy, CFD). He'd been a partner for 25 years and senior partner for seven. He was 57 when he quit.

That's not unusual. Most of the large law firms that have had senior and managing partner turnover in the last few years, eg. Linklaters, Allen & Overy, have ensured their exits were earlier than later.

I discussed last year how Freshfields cut its equity partnership by 20% by removing a large number of partners over 55. This resulted in a summer's litigation for the firm which made much of its private world public.

Given what we know about the demographic profiles of the UK and the US, there is something unusual about this. Both populations are aging as the baby boomers reach their "third age". Both countries are afraid of their impending pension crises. Both are considering raising pension access ages. Not law firms: they want to retire people younger.

The legal profession is simply agist. It discriminates on the grounds of age. Does it have good reasons for so doing?

Marc Galanter has discussed how the pressure on partners to be profitable within the context of the law firm has created huge stresses on lawyers in general. Associates who are good must be promoted. New partners squeeze the equity and so to retain the best and to ensure profits, pressure is applied to older partners to go.

This raises further questions about rainmaking and who is responsible for bringing in the valuable work that keeps the associates and junior partners busy. One argument says that individual lawyers are the key finders and are highly valued for that skill. Would then they be threatened?

Another argument suggests that the law firm itself is the responsible entity that brings in the business with partners merely facilitating something that already occurs. What then is needed are "client relationship partners" rather than finders. In this case the firm must constantly refresh itself by flushing out those who are no longer contemporary with firm needs and goals.

Galanter seems to think a move into legal services would be a good second-career strategy for successful, involuntary retired corporate lawyers. While this might be feasible in the US, it isn't going to happen in the UK. Most of these retired corporate lawyers have no clue about legal services. They probably blinked when it was mentioned.

No. It will be a case of finding something in the corporate sector. Trading in Clark's case, investment banking or rating agency work. The trick will be to ensure that you the lawyer actually get elected managing or senior partner in order to parlay that intangible asset into something marketable in the after-market. Law firm elections are destined to become more intense and more contested.

Gentlemen (and ladies), you are under starter's orders......

Saturday, August 02, 2008

End of Class and Ventures New?

I've just come to the end of my summer program class for Miami, "Global Lawyering". I now have the exams to grade and I'm done. My colleague, Michael Graham, made the mistake of asking me how I was going to relax over the summer. So I told him.

I have the paper on lawyer-client relationships I'm revising. Georgetown has asked me to contribute a paper I did for their "Future of the Global Law Firm", to their legal ethics journal. Moreover, they've asked me to write a review of the second edition of the Lerman-Schrag professional responsibility book. I have my research with Peter Lederer to write up for a journal. The Bar Council have asked to do some research on direct access to the Bar. And a request came from Australia yesterday to write an article on the changes to the English legal profession. Somewhere along the line I'm writing a research grant proposal. And I have the book on barristers' clerks to do now that the fieldwork is done. My colleague, Pablo Sosa, has agreed to collaborate on a book on cosmopolitan lawyers. It's all the usual academic stuff that I love. I just wish deadlines weren't so strict.

All in all, quite a relaxing time.

So amongst all this fun I thought I should do something serious to set my mind working. The first thing that came my way was through reading an article in the Guardian by someone at the Tate Gallery about giving lectures on a cruise liner. His problem was that the cruise company wanted him to do "laughs" not be serious, and as he said, he didn't do laughs. The solution? Enrol in a stand up comedy class. Bravo, maestro! This hit me somewhere; I don't know quite where, but it did. I contacted him and got the name of the comedy teacher, Chris Head. The upshot is that I am now enrolled on a stand up course that begins in September. Oh, shit! This ain't the end either...The course is ten sessions and the final one is to do a real performance in a club. That's in November. Why? oh, why? Because I like taking risks, I think.

But it wasn't serious enough. Various colleagues of mine were heading off on vacation while I would be relaxing with my articles and research. I needed more. I found it in a memory of a prior vacation in South Africa where I saw people paragliding. It's idyllic. Starting next Friday (August 8), I'm enrolled in a ten day course in paragliding where I shall be jumping off a hill with my gliding chute hoping to ride those thermals into the blue yonder. By the time I'd heard the list of all the possible nasty things that could happen up there from the instructor, I was ready to retrench.

But then what is life if risks aren't taken? I do feel the need to test myself mentally and physically and to know that I am alive and ready to think serious and not merely want to relax all the time...