10 January 2000
Nick Rochez, who left Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC) in December after 21 years, to join US firm Leboeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae's London office, is an enigma.
On the one hand Rochez, previously senior insurance litigation partner and former managing partner at DAC, is not afraid to show his political colours, which are very red.
On the other, he reveals with a conviction that would make any capitalist proud, one of his favourite sayings when he was managing partner at DAC between 1987 and 1992, was: "Billing is vanity, cash is sanity."
But there is nothing sinister behind the display of ambivalence.
Rochez is simply realistic about treating law as a business and rejecting the idea that the drive to be profitable sullies the profession.
He says: "You have to make the business work and to oil the wheels requires cash coming in. There are far too many lawyers in this day and age who do not appreciate that."
One would be forgiven for assuming that the next step for a lawyer who claims to have such a modern approach would be to join a US firm, which Rochez did at the start of this month.
But he dismisses this: "It is generally irrelevant whether it was a Stateside issue. It was because it was Leboeufs."
But it took a long time for Rochez to make the move - five years, in fact, after Peter Sharp, a partner in the insurance department at Leboeufs, approached him.
"I was very adamant and Peter had almost given up," he says, laughing.
Although Rochez is keen to play down his decision to leave DAC, it did create a stir at the time.
Not least because he left as DAC was undergoing a major restructure, in which 90 staff were made redundant in Manchester and London.
But he insists: "It did not figure at all and it is a disappointment to me that my timing should coincide with that."
His departure also came at a critical period for the insurance sector, when companies such as CGU were cutting back their panels of law firms and demanding lower rates for high volume claims work.
Paul Taylor, national senior partner at Berrymans Lace Mawer, says: "I think that DAC's clients will certainly be concerned that the firm has lost the depth of expertise."
But Rochez, who counts companies such as Royal & SunAlliance as clients, is coy about the effect of his departure and about whether he has taken his portfolio with him.
He says: "I wouldn't be so presumptuous. It is a matter for those clients."
Until joining Leboeufs, Rochez had spent his entire career at DAC. He joined in 1978, qualified in 1980 and became a partner four years later.
Although Rochez is recognised as being a specialist in commercial litigation, he began his career practising employment law.
He says: "Employment law is fine if you have a corporate-based clientele around you but I had insurance.
"At a different firm I might have continued employment work. But it is difficult to develop an employment practice if you haven't got a wider base."
Ethically, Rochez has become cynical about the evolution of employment law since he ceased to practise in that area.
He says: "The only problem that I had was that lawyers had taken over the area which was never the intention."
At the age of 32, Rochez became managing partner at DAC. He says: "I think it was youth that allowed me to believe that I could do absolutely anything."
While he enjoyed the "nitty gritty" of running a law firm, he says it was difficult to reconcile fee-earning with his management duties.
He says: "It merited a full-time position and there was a number of partners who didn't share that view."
While Rochez was happy to go back to fee-earning, it was during this period that he began thinking about his future and, with former client Mike Semple Piggot, he set up an internet site for people to study for a law degree using the web.
He says: "We talked about the training of lawyers and how expensive it is and the real concern that both of us shared was that there was a danger of the profession becoming exclusive again."
Rochez is keen to point out that he will still continue to run the site, although he realises that his workload is set to increase heavily in his new role at Leboeufs.
"Leboeufs has a very strong collegiate feel to it and that was very important to me," he says.
"Things have happened to partnerships in London where the glue is not as strong as it used to be. I have no desire to join a partnership just because it is full of good lawyers. There has to be more to it than just that."
Leboeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae