Why can’t firms just talk straight?

Imagine no head office: it’s easy if you try. No boss in London, management on the fly. Imagine all the lawyers living life in peace… Such is the utopian refrain suggested by the declaration last week by SNR Denton, Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain (FMC) that the merged firm would be “truly polycentric” with no single HQ and simply bursting with diversity.

Catrin Griffiths

This is, of course, a delightful bit of management cheese. Pretending there’s no organisational centre of gravity and yoking this to a diversity argument is a hilarious sleight of hand, but it’s trying to get us to ignore the unignorable. SNR Denton and Salans have been in talks on and off for a year, and no decision was reached in that time. The recent addition of FMC to the melting pot simply complicated things; parking the culturally loaded decision about headquarters is a tactic to get over political bumps in the road. It’s not a radical new strategy that will shift the law firm model, particularly since the management team is skewed towards North America.

And there’s plenty of work to do, even in Salans’ jewel territories of Eastern Europe, where it is widely seen as competitive with the magic circle. If you scrutinise the results of the Sberbank panel review you can see precisely which firms pitched for what. SNR Denton and Salans did pretty modestly; both went for 11 places on the bank’s roster and both scraped a handful of spots on smaller sub-panels. A similar fate befell CMS and DLA Piper. It looks like financial institutions aren’t yet convinced by the rise of the multinational and federal law firm.

Anyway, management invention doesn’t stop at enshrining rootlessness as a value, oh no. I particularly enjoyed this quote: “[The firm] will employ an innovative name migration strategy to capture the inherent brand equity of the Salans, FMC and SNR Denton names in their current geographies” (my italics).

Innovative name migration strategy, my foot. The first reason they picked Dentons is because it’s politically the least powerful part of the business; the second is because it’s simply the easiest to pronounce. If only newly merged firms employed an innovative anti-bovine emissions strategy. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.