The Leader Column

Good God. The-odore Goddard in radical move shocker. As re-vealed in this issue, the firm has elected a non-lawyer to take charge. Instead of having a managing partner, Theodore Goddard will have a chief operating officer.
Well, yes, it does sound a bit 1990s. Non-lawyer managers were more in fashion five years ago, but for a partnership like Theodores this is nevertheless a giant step. Actually, you can see a pattern emerging. Every four years, Theodores gets into merger talks; the merger talks fail; then comes the management shake-up. This particular rejig is a nice combination of the radical and – this being Theodores – the elegantly conservative.
Nigel West, a banker who joined Theodores five and a half years ago to head the structured finance and projects practice, is semi-detached from the partnership. He's probably (just about) glad about that. As a non-partner, he is less politically tainted, given that he didn't get to vote on the merger discussions – though the banking group he heads was broadly against the proposed deal with Salans.
Yet in voting for West, the firm has sanctioned the softly-softly approach once more. West is no Paul Maher; he is not likely to kick the partnership into shape and then lead it into a US merger. Having successfully run the banking group on consensus-based lines, West is primarily a facilitator rather than a leader. In this way, his philosophy was very different from that of his opponent John Lomas – your archetypal bluff litigator and the original favourite for the job. Lomas argued for a robust and centralised leadership. Theodores is thus one of the few thriving mid-size firms left – Travers Smith is another rare example – which is still built on consensus.
So is it a fudge? West's win has its advantages for Theodores. Not only did he win by a clear margin, giving him a secure mandate, but the five-partner management board he will work with is likely to have new blood such as banking partner Jayesh Patel and real estate partner Andrew Bailey. In that board will reside the true decision-making power.
In any case, there seems at last to be an acceptance by Theodores' partners that they cannot put off the international dimension any more. The really radical move is not electing a non-lawyer to head the firm, but Theodores' new openness in seeking out a Western European merger. Now that really is a revolution.