The Leader Column

It looks like calling the private detectives in worked. Senior partner Paddy Grafton-Green has finally managed to cow his partnership into submission

Last week – as trailed by Grapevine on Lawyer News Weekly on 12 February – Theodore Goddard partners voted 100 per cent to enter into exclusive merger talks with Addleshaw Booth & Co. So, despite losing 14 partners in a year and having three sets of merger talks in the space of a decade, the Theodores management reckons it can finally deliver a deal. As Naomi Rovnick reports in this issue, there are no lock-in provisions, but then they also know it's their last chance.

It's a match made in heaven. Addleshaws gets Catherine Zeta-Jones, Theodores gets a corporate team. (Theodores partners also get the chance to be bored stupid by endless guff about the Commonwealth Games.) And it goes wider; it is, namely, an elaborate prettification exercise for US firms such as – oooh, let's take a wild guess here – Winston & Strawn.

The interesting thing is that Addleshaws, despite its weaker profits – £275,000 compared with Theodores' £350,000 – is nevertheless the dominant player. A source close to the discussions says that Addleshaws has been trying to impose conditions from the off. The question is whether Paddy Grafton-Green and his team will have to offer any sacrificial lambs.

The two firms are currently claiming that the composition of the merged management is up for grabs. They may indeed spend the next few weeks thrashing out a politically correct structure, but frankly, it's a waste of time. The whole deal is just a very long-winded way of getting Mark “Axeman” Jones to come in and do Theodores' dirty work.

Jones, of course, was the man who took the brutal decision to get rid of 11 equity partners last year. You just wonder whether he's rubbing his hands at the prospect of licking Theodores into shape or whether he's secretly stocking up on the Nurofen. Significantly, Theodores went to the lengths of securing a vote in advance of any final merger proposal. Meanwhile, Jones and senior partner Paul Lee spent last week presenting to their partners in the full knowledge that last year's strategy review had given them carte blanche to do what they liked. They didn't put the proposal to the vote.

Choice for weaker Theodores partners: jump now or wait till Jones gives you the boot. I'd opt for a swift exit. At least that way you can save a bit of dignity.