The flight from decency

The flight from decencyWhile the race is on at the magic circle to see who can sack most people and boost profits for those remaining as quickly as possible, some firms have little time for such a strategy.

Dewey & LeBoeuf chairman Steve Davis was over in the London office last week as part of his fortnightly “check-in” with the kids on the other side of the pond. Things haven’t been easy of late – a number of offices have been closed (see story) and profits are down, he told the assembled crowd.

Dewey partners might have been anxious about what he was going to say next. But the words “new world” and “size and shape” were absent from the chief’s discourse.

Instead he told the partners that as the employer of around 3,000 people, Dewey had a responsibility for the wellbeing of an additional 7,000 or so dependents. So, prudent measures would be adopted before even beginning to look at mass redundancies or a cull of the partnership. Neither of which were on the agenda.

The first notable manifestations of “prudence” have been felt in the canteen. The firm used to put out bowls of fresh fruit at the coffee stands for people to help themselves to. And once a month fresh bagels were made available for the peckish. Both have gone. By pulling the fruit alone the firm has saved 18 grand a year. That’s almost one secretary’s salary.

How did all this go down with the partners? Would they prefer to trim “dead wood” to maintain their own profits?

Apparently not. One commented that the general mood was supportive. “An extra £100K a year would be nice, but nobody needs that. Nobody’s kids are going to walk around with holes in their socks because they don’t get it. I’ve got no time for underperforming partners, but you’ve got to separate between underperformance and poor market conditions. A partnership is like a marriage, you’re in it for the good and the bad times.”

Sadly it’s a reflection of the strange world we live in that this partner’s very sane comments would be interpreted as almost quaint by some.

Magic circle rivalry may be billed as a healthy race to the top, but in fact it’s a race further and further to the murky bottom, in which the greed of the few prevails.