The beauty of an international network of offices is that when work starts to dry up in one, there are plenty of other locations for staff to be redeployed to. Just ask Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which earlier this year saw London managing partner Tim Jones formalise a strategy for moving talent between the firm’s offices (see story).
The thinking behind this strategy, while hardly original, is sound: if lawyers are mobile enough to follow the work, they’ll never be short of something to do.
Clifford Chance senior partner Stuart Popham had the same idea when he told The Lawyer at the beginning of this year that firms must be prepared to mobilise quickly in order to take advantage of opportunities as and when – and crucially, where – they arise (see story).
But just as the problems that brought the financial world crashing to a halt were largely unpredictable, the political situation in individual jurisdictions can be equally hard to forecast.
Freshfields, which saw partners Bob Charlton, Charles July and Ian Pynton relocate to the Middle East earlier this year, was on the cusp of sending a batch of lawyers to Moscow when Russia went to war with its neighbour Georgia over the disputed territory of South Ossetia.
With work in the region drying up almost immediately, the firm was forced to cancel the transfers.
While the timing was such that Freshfields managed to save on the expense of relocating a group of lawyers, ultimately it will still have to find work for them to do elsewhere.
Although Freshfields made a small number of redundancies in September, job losses is not a concept the magic circle likes to grapple with. But with the economic downturn reaching into all corners of the globe it is clear that there is only so much a mobility strategy will be able to achieve.