Leader

Please, Santa, when I go to work I’d like the following: yoga lessons, shopping discounts, mortgage assistance, sport and theatre tickets, a signing bonus, a concierge service, gym membership, a laptop, home insurance and reimbursement for househunting expenses. I’d also like to earn more than my parents ever dreamed of and then post endless messages in chatrooms moaning about how exploited I am.

Someone somewhere will soon be writing a PhD thesis on the perks and benefits US firms offered during the late 1990s and the backlash a few years later. Skadden‘s move to phase out associate sabbaticals is confirmation, were it needed, that the balance of power has shifted right back to the partners.

It’s the same over here, except that the pendulum never swung quite so far in the first place. But there’s still an unpleasant reek of middle-class entitlement in the City. Believe it or not, there are still young lawyers who are bitching that they haven’t got a bonus this year. You can’t help feeling that the twentysomethings who moan the most are the ones who’d never deign to say hello to the office cleaner, who’s probably on the minimum wage.

The benefits offered at the height of the boom have a slightly chintzy feel to them now. Take this rather disturbing package offered by Sidley & Austin (now Sidley Austin Brown & Wood), which comprised ‘blood drives’, ‘flu shots’ and ‘subsidised chair massages’ – presumably all unrelated to one another. Even more surreal was the ‘free pet insurance’ offered by Fenwick & West – yes, it’s a Californian firm.

Still, let’s hope the backlash isn’t too violent; in among the gimmicks were benefits of real value, such as emergency childcare and flexible working. The focus nowadays is on associate involvement – upward appraisals of partners, meaningful work assignments, training and client contact. After all, the fun from work doesn’t come from enforced weekends away with your team, their spouses and their children, as Boston firm Goodwin Proctor seemed to think. (Imagine the horror of never escaping from your colleagues. Imagine the horror of seeing your boss in shorts, come to that.)

Instead, we rather liked the comment last week from a senior partner at a US firm in London. When asked whether his organisation offered sabbaticals to associates, he said: “Sure we do. We call them ‘weekends’.”