Linklaters’ recently retired corporate partner John Phipson acts less like a stuffy lawyer and more like the legal world’s answer to James Bond, managing to combine his obvious magnetism – he is widely thought of as the best-looking partner in the firm – with having a good laugh.
When he discovered a British lawyer was nervous about being posted to the Moscow office in 1996, he decided the best way to put her at ease was by taking her to a raucous Russian bar, the Hungary Duck, where the locals’ favourite activity was standing on tables and pulling down their trousers.
“It worked a treat,” says Phipson, with a mischievous grin. “She has never forgotten the experience.”
However, his own days of fun and games at Linklaters are over, as 58- year-old Phipson has retired from the firm where he has worked for 40 years – and where his family has served for 138 years.
His great-grandfather Harold Brown joined as a partner in 1870 and it is a source of pride to Phipson that he became a partner exactly 100 years later.
Phipson’s entry into the legal profession was somewhat unplanned. In 1959 he fully expected to do his National Service and perhaps go on to university: “I had no idea what I wanted to do, except perhaps be a headmaster – probably through a desire never to grow up.”
But when National Service ended, getting into university proved to be chaotic due to the flood of young men who could suddenly apply. And as there were more applicants than places, Phipson followed family tradition and joined Linklaters when he was 18.
At the time, he was related to more than half of the firm’s partners either by blood or marriage.
Always the extrovert, Phipson achieved an early distinction by being the firm’s first articled clerk not to wear a bowler hat. But after more than four years of articles and law school, he settled down, deciding company law was for him – and he has never looked back.
“I knew I would be here forever because I regard being a partner as a contract for life, kind of like marriage,” he says.
Phipson has always worked in the corporate department, recently dealing with corporate trustees of bond and debenture issues after practising across a wide range, including take-over bids and flotations.
Although based in London for most of his career, Phipson took a couple of years out in 1995 when he was sent as the partner to head the rapidly expanding Moscow office.
Not only did his foray into Russia quench his thirst for real ale – hence his appreciation of the trouser-dropping hostelry – but it also gave him a chance to work in a burgeoning area.
He says: “Practising was very different there as laws were still being written, so we had to judge what would become law. And if we got it wrong, there was the possibility that the tax police would break through the windows.”
But, despite the stream of amusing memories, while Phipson thinks the job is still fun, it is not as much fun as it used to be.
He says that today’s generation of lawyers work much longer hours than when he was a junior, which he blames on computers.
“My secretary used to give me a telling off if I asked her to retype a document because I wanted to change something. This taught me to get it right the first time. With word processors, people are doing three to four drafts first, so the same job is taking longer.”
A few days ago, his leaving party was the best turnout in the firm’s recent history, with more than 200 people attending to say goodbye. He puts on a brave face about leaving, saying: “There’s no point in looking back.”
Colleagues, however, say that privately he is sad to go.
Now the future holds lots of beers with friends, relaxing in the garden and enjoying his family.
And what did the James Bond of Linklaters do on his last day at work? “Shredded a lot of documents,” he says, smiling mishievously.