For eight years Clifford Chance senior partner Stuart Popham inhabited an exalted place in the great-and-goodery, with no trade mission or pro bono initiative complete without his presence.
But aside from a lift in the firm’s name recognition and a lot of Davos shoulder-rubbing, the wider benefits of Popham’s eminence were often questioned by his colleagues; his nickname of ’Party Partner’ underlines a residual irreverence in the Clifford Chance culture as well as a distrust of non-fee-earning plateau partners.
So it’s been interesting to watch Allen & Overy (A&O) senior partner David Morley slide effortlessly into Popham’s place as the City’s favoured magic circle thought leader, as much at home talking about social mobility and Prime as global investment trends, and happy to put in the air miles on trade missions, notably to Russia earlier this month, although Eversheds’ Lee Ranson also got the nod for that (see page 6 for his thoughts).
Last week Morley, managing partner Wim Dejonghe and banking partner Philip Wood were to be seen on Sky, CNBC and Reuters TV elaborating on A&O’s latest report on global investment, 50 Degrees East. I don’t remember this happening when Clifford Chance or Norton Rose published their research on Asia trends, so group hugs all round to A&O’s external PRs Edelman.
That more than 1,000 senior executives believe power is shifting to Asia will come as no surprise, but the packaging of the report was slick and it has enough nuggets to keep readers’ attention. After all, in an uncertain world business leaders are desperately interested in what their peers think.
More intriguingly, that report is part of an attempt by A&O to harness thought leadership, brand benefit, client engagement and culture change, and is an offshoot of a McKinsey programme on partner interaction with clients. The research not only creates discursive opportunities for partners, but also, conveniently, reminds clients of A&O’s global brand. Both Morley and Dejonghe are telegenic communicators by legal industry standards (“This can’t be the David Morley show,” admits one insider). Their effort to reposition lawyers as commentators may see a few more law firm leaders on Newsnight. Ted, Simon, Malcolm: over to you.