Linklaters’ German partners must have rubbed their hands with glee when the firm broke its lockstep to effect the 2007 hire of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer stars Ralph Wollburg and Achim Kirchfeld.
Despite German partners’ profit shares being 30 per cent lower than their UK counterparts’ since the 2001 merger of Linklaters and Germany’s Oppenhoff & Rädler, Wollburg and Kirchfeld had been hired into the top of the London equity, with then managing partner elect Simon Davies promising parity between the two structures within an 18-month period.
Three years, a global recession and a buoyant German economy later and the Teutons are still waiting. While they are billing as much - and sometimes more than - their London equivalents, they can still share in only 90 per cent of the rewards.
But their patience has worn thin and, with the image of their export-rich country as the leader of Europe’s economic recovery to fuel their ire, it looks as if the Germans have finally won London over.
The result? Unrest in other areas of the firm, with some London corporate partners proving resentful about those elsewhere in the firm sharing in what they see as their spoils. With the firm’s all-equity ambitions resolute, and with senior partner David Cheyne claiming that the firm’s policy is to have every country on a lockstep “factor of one”, these grumblings will only become louder.
But while the average pensions partner will never bill the same as a transactional lawyer on a single job, equally their workstream will never be as open to the ravages of a choppy market. This holds true across geographies too. If firms have learnt anything in the past three years, it is that the bottom can fall out of even the strongest practices and markets, meaning ’economically weaker’ groups are relied on to carry everyone through.
The concept of partnership is a tricky one, particularly given how many partners firms such as Linklaters now have in their ranks. But if a firm believes in an all-equity lockstep model then surely it has to embrace a one-size-fits-all approach, even if what is figure-hugging for one proves big and baggy for another. After all, isn’t that what partnership is supposed to be about?