A question: what is the one key factor - the obscure-all-others, make-or-break consideration - that will ensure a transatlantic merger on the scale of that about to take place between Lovells and Hogan & Hartson is a success?
The answer: money. Or, more specifically, the amount of money that will ultimately be lodged in individual partners’ bank accounts.
Firms can talk about complementary practices and cultural parallels as much as they want, but when it comes down to it, if partners think they’re going to get a raw deal they have the power to scotch any merger.
Which is why Lovells shouldn’t face too much opposition in the ranks: the chance to top up market-trailing equity shares with performance-related bonuses should prove a clincher.
That’s not to say that the preoccupation with fluffier issues, such as cultural fit and practice overlap, are unimportant - this much is clear from the criteria that will be used to determine Hogan Lovells partners’ remuneration packages.
This has not been lost on Lovells’ negotiation team, which after agreeing that an alphabetical joining of names would be the adult way forward has ensured that Lovells’ green branding will live on post-merger.
A small victory, maybe, but given that the new firm will almost certainly come to be known colloquially as Hogan (remember Richards Butler? Rowe & Maw?) it’s probably a savvy one.
Yet in the end it is money that will preoccupy Lovells partners in the run-up to their annual conference this week. And whether they choose to back a merger that has the potential to make them magic circle-style earners or not, for Lovells at least lockstep looks set to be consigned to the past. Having already modified its system so underperformers are to be penalised, and having suffered the departure of one too many star partners over the years, the firm has finally resolved that high achievers will be rewarded with bonuses even if its merger doesn’t go ahead.
So could this be the beginning of the end for lockstep more generally?
Judging by our stories on pages 1 and 4, it certainly looks as if associate lockstep is on the way out. And that really would represent a revolution.