Senior – wouldn’t wanna be ya

Last week, following Rohan Weerasinghe’s surprise exit, Creighton Condon had power thrust upon him as he took over as Shearman’s senior partner.

True, in a week that saw the ousting from power of Dewey chair Steve Davis and the exit of former Dewey Ballantine head Mort Pierce, Condon’s elevation probably didn’t rock too many people’s worlds. But his stated ambitions now he’s running the show – to beef up in private equity, grow litigation and strengthen the Middle East platform – serve to underline that what law firm leaders want, counts. While one individual rarely decides a firm’s fate, a strong (or weak) personality at the top can have a fundamental impact on its fortunes.

Consequently, this week’s cover story about the varying role of a senior partner is required reading for any lawyer eyeing a management position, senior partner or otherwise. As Ruth Green’s article reveals, the tag ’senior partner’ can cover a lot of ground, with the level of executive power it assumes on a sliding scale, from door-opening ambassador to bloody-minded tyrant.

Neither Clifford Chance’s Malcolm Sweeting nor Simmons’ Colin Passmore, who are both profiled, fall squarely into either category, although you can bet they both have the ability to play either role. And in today’s market both the role and the power that senior management wields are critical issues.
In the feature, Slaughters’ senior partner Chris Saul is clear that his firm does not use the term ’manager’ for any senior role. He see himself in the role of the firm’s father-cum-psychologist, offering every partner “an hour on the couch” each year.

But that’s just one of the weird nuances of the increasingly creaky and antiquated traditional law firm model. In reality this is not a private members’ club where everything’s cosy and overstuffed (well, maybe some individuals fit that bill).

These are big businesses, and what they need are managers.

On the flip side, firms such as Clifford Chance and Herbert Smith are now ditching senior lawyers to make way for the trainees and NQs coming through. Never mind ’manager’, anyone with ’senior’ in their title should be afraid.