The genius loci of law firms

As if opening in Canada, hiring 24 laterals in a year and wrestling with pre-vote merger negotiations wasn’t enough, Clyde & Co is also moving offices next month.

That’s the sort of workload that would make most management teams quail. And with fearful symmetry, it’s moving right next door to BLG.

This puts the stakes of the deal even higher; if for some reason it doesn’t come off, it would be the ­corporate equivalent of bumping into your ex in the newsagent’s on a daily basis. However, assuming the deal does get voted through, the location of the offices is not a bad way to start married life, since integration is entirely dependent on proximity; and that includes the staff sharing the same pub.

So Beachcroft, which has four offices in London, and DAC, which has two, are going to have a busy few months working out how to rationalise their pre-merger property overheads, while ­retaining a significant EC3-facing office.

Law firm property decisions are never seen as particularly sexy news stories – unless they involve a dodgy sale-and-leaseback in the middle of ­Manchester, say – but they’re crucial to the pace of post-merger integration.

They can recalibrate organisational culture, too. When Norton Rose moved into its lambent offices near London Bridge a few years back, we didn’t hear the last of it. In retrospect it was a material factor in Peter Martyr’s project to reboot the firm.

The office move tells you everything about a firm’s self-image, too. With no phallic irony ­whatsoever, US firms love tower developments and massive landmark buildings such as the Gherkin. ­Clifford Chance opted for the technocratic, banker-filled bleakness of Canary Wharf. Nowadays UK law firms are increasingly channelling their inner hipster by looking at the edgier (read cheaper) ­environments of Spitalfields and Old Street.

However, the premises issue and its inherent inflexibility can also be a drag on strategy. Firms whose leases are up for renewal in a couple of years – and there are quite a few of them at the moment – need to make key decisions on locations before they’ve reached any internal consensus on whether they need to merge. Happy the managing partner who can use a break clause for strategic ends.

catrin.griffiths@thelawyer.com; www.twitter.com/lawyercatrin