You shall go to the ball

For those of you for whom partnership is the glittering prize, the first partner retreat is a rite of passage. How could a rookie not get excited about these conferences, with their high-level strategic discussions, dramatic unveiling of the true financials and excellent opportunities to tell the senior partner you’ve always really, really bloody loved him?

O tempora, o mores. Gone are the days when a retreat would yield much in the way of memorable moments. The last old-fashioned stand-up row in a bar was in 2004, when a Very Senior Figure from Clifford Chance told West Coast maverick Tower Snow to f*** off back to California. Nowadays it seems to be all about bonding and values.

First, don’t expect too much glamour: the locations have become deliberately economical. Addleshaw Goddard went a touch WAG a couple of weeks ago with a Hertfordshire hotel that is allegedly David Beckham’s favourite – but at least it didn’t have to pay for flights.

Linklaters found a hotel in Monaco that was so desperate to attract business that the deal was “cheaper than a B&B in Clacton”, as one insider puts it. In a triumph of economy, if not of style, Allen & Overy spent two days holed up somewhere ghastly off the Edgware Road.

Second, having spent the year avoiding too much contact with scary in-house lawyers, firms inevitably ship them in for a panel session. Clifford Chance roped in a bunch of hotshot general counsel in Barcelona this year, but there wasn’t much probing questioning; ditto Addleshaws. Novices will quickly realise their colleagues don’t want to hear too much about the client experience on a retreat – they’re just desperate for a bit of affirmation.

And there’s always a set-piece. Linklaters had spectacular fireworks, although the management hastily had to tell partners it wasn’t coming out of their pockets, because the tourist board laid it on for free. And in a moment replete with historical resonance, this year Freshfields partners dined at Versailles. Whether that refers to a bloody revolution or a new dispensation that hacks off the Germans is moot.

One thing doesn’t change: no creeping corporatisation can stop a bunch of UK lawyers getting drunk and talking absolute rubbish until the small hours. What better reason for a partner retreat than that?