The Leader Column

It’s all the rage, this corporate governance lark. You wait for ages, and then all of a sudden three reviews come along at once. In this issue of The Lawyer we reveal the results of the exercises undertaken by SJ Berwin and Linklaters. (The third, of course, is the Clifford Chance corporate governance review, which appears to have the gestation period of an elephant. More of that later.)
Forgive me for a touch of cynicism here – and I’m not ascribing any cruel intentions to the management teams in question – but it appears that these reviews fit the unconcious agenda of the ruling parties within the firms.
Take SJ Berwin. Popularly supposed to be a highly individualistic, tetchy bunch, it is also popularly supposed to be held together by the urbane senior partner David Harrel. There’s a certain amount of truth to this, although the perception is increasingly out of date. The firm says that the review was occasioned by its European expansion. But the fact that the succession issue has dogged the partnership for the last few years was surely a major factor in the review. That issue even prompted unfounded rumours among assistants that Harrel was on the verge of leaving. The new structure miraculously enables Ralph Cohen to find his feet by essentially shadowing Harrel for the next few years.
Linklaters’ review of governance was designed to reflect the firm’s global practice. Yet, as Julia Cahill points out (see page 2), London has maintained a stranglehold on the management of the firm. Linklaters will argue that different regions have their own representation. But lo! One of the two German representatives is Ulrich Wolff, one of Oppenhoff & Rädler’s rising stars. And he’s spent the last two years in – you guessed it – London.
Over at Clifford Chance, the announcement of the results of the corporate governance review has been delayed by a few more weeks. Why? Well, Peter “give the partnership back to the partners” Cornell is embroiled in sorting out the Italian rebellion, but it’s probably more to do with the fact that the review – ironically – impacts entirely on his own role as CEO, a role he formally takes up this month. Yet despite the fuss at the time of the CEO election, it’s hard to find a CC partner who now cares much about the issue; it seems all those focus groups have lanced the boil. And since Cornell may end up being more of a disciplinarian than anyone might have imagined, that will make his job a whole lot easier.