A welcome end to rigidity

Now that recession panic appears to have lost its stranglehold on the collective consciousness of lawyers, something interesting is starting to emerge. It’s an anti-strategy trend; the freedom
to be opportunistic without three sets of position papers and a partner vote.

This is partly because the fear has been taken out of poor financial results this year and next. My ­prediction is that the top firms outside the magic circle will see their PEP descend to around £600,000 (frankly, any higher will be difficult to explain to clients or anyone living outside Sevenoaks), while the vast majority of firms in The Lawyer UK200 will settle to somewhere between the £200,000 and £450,000 mark.

So a what-the-hell approach is a chance for the less fashionable firms to make their case. We could be seeing a rejig of the middle order, with firms’ ­fortunes changing quite dramatically. Some are weathering this storm well – Norton Rose and Denton Wilde Sapte being two obvious examples of firms that always preferred to be cuddly rather than thrusting and used to lag their peers financially.

Hence we’re seeing SJ Berwin ditch 10 years of European branding to open in Asia and the Middle East. White & Case, having seen its stellar Central Asia emerging markets practice wither, is making the most of its Africa business and going at it full tilt.

At Linklaters, Project New World is well underway, but there was little strategy discussion of it at its partnership retreat in Monaco last week. Senior partner David Cheyne had made it quite clear to all that he was not interested in another bout of navel-gazing. As another Linklaters ­partner comments: “There’s no poncy clear blue water bullsh*t.”

Meanwhile, and most spectacularly, Norton Rose has gained fantastic plaudits from its own staff and the outside world for its four-day week proposal. But the hilarious secret is that this scheme was hatched entirely on the hoof. “We’re making this up as we go along,” confesses one partner. But the risk paid off. The staff’s huge take-up of 96 per cent is essentially an endorsement of the current management team. Peter Martyr must be whooping with delight.