Happier endings?

Maybe it’s an end-of-year lull, but the sense of panic that characterised the post-Christmas period seems to have finally abated. For now.

Okay, so most firms tried to get their bad news out of the way before the end of the financial year, and as our lead story shows we’re certainly not out of the woods yet, but there’s definitely a growing sense of calm.

According to our online poll (see page 2), a slim majority of our readers now believe we’ll be emerging from recession within the next year.

It may still be premature to talk about green shoots, but a tentative optimism has been ­displayed by the firms that have so far announced their partnership promotions. Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance have put theirs on hold for now, preferring to get their houses in order before ­welcoming new members in. But with the ­exception of Wragges (whose sole new partner would have been one of nine had he made the grade last year) and Slaughters (whose promotion numbers began dropping even during the boom), this year’s round is not so different from last year’s (admittedly reduced) round that it should be a major cause for concern.

That is, of course, against a backdrop of uncertainty for trainees, with more and more firms asking future intakes to push back their start dates.

What is clear is that, rather than reinventing themselves, firms are going to have to keep finding ways of maintaining their vitality to keep the ­interest of their junior ranks.

Which is why Camerons’ new office partner role, which represents the first stage of progression for senior associates, who will then spend three years as salaried partners before joining the ­equity, is so interesting.

But no matter how innovative firms try to be, and regardless of how much optimism year-end ­euphoria can create, there is no escaping the fact that the market remains tough.

As this year’s promotions show, firms are still looking to foreign shores as a means of generating revenues. And the smart money, it seems, is on Africa emerging as the next destination of choice.

White & Case is there. Who’s next?
margaret.taylor@thelawyer.com