Linklaters to vote on streamlining board in governance review

Linklaters is to vote tomorrow (25 November) on sweeping changes to its international board (IB) which could result in a reduction of seats or change in function, but has ruled out a merger of the two senior boards.

The governance review will be debated at the firm’s first bi-annual partnership conference in over five years. Partners called for a return to twice-yearly meetings earlier this year after a mounting consensus that the April conference did not allow enough open debate on strategic issues.

There are four items on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting in London, including the governance review and the firm’s strategy in the US, with the management committee having come up with around three proposals on each.

The options on the table for the IB changes are understood to range from a reduction in number of seats on the board, to a change in the roles of members. One source described it as a probe into “the job description and make-up of the IB”.

However partners will not be given the chance to vote on a merger of the IB and Executive Committee despite raising it earlier in the year (27 February 2014).

In February senior partner Robert Elliott was understood to be considering combining the firm’s 15-partner IB with its 12-partner executive committee, chaired by managing partner Simon Davies.

But the proposal has now been shelved for good among sentiment that it was necessary to have both institutions. Sources said such radical change had been ultimately unpopular, with most partners preferring the idea of reducing its size.

One source said: “I think we more need to think about who goes on the boards and if they could be more nimble,” adding: “I’m not sure the size affects decision making badly but does it add anything?”

Another said there was no clear consensus on the way ahead and partners were keen for an opportunity to discuss it the issue at length but added: “I think people would just be grateful for it to be brought to a conclusion.”

The US will also form a key pillar of tomorrow’s discussion, with rivals Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s recent spate of high-profile US hires at the forefront of partners’ minds.

One source said the US would be discussed and “particularly what Freshfields was doing”. Another said Linklaters had to decide whether to “stick with what you’ve got, play around the edges or do something really fundamental,” with others saying it was unlikely to follow Freshfields in a lockstep-busting hiring spree.

One notably absent topic is Asia, despite murmurs surrounding the firm’s enthusiasm to tie up with a Chinese firm earlier in the year (23 June 2014). The firm was understood to have made overtures to at least two Chinese firms over the summer but any prospect of a new Asia alliance will not be up for discussion when partners meet tomorrow.

The move back to twice-annual meetings was prompted by a consensus that the scheulde of the annual April meeting, which also deals with partner promotions, was now too packed to enable proper debate around key issues.

One said: “In the early days we used to have a lot of big discussions but now we’re so much bigger it’s much harder to do that. This is simply a desire to have some unscripted discussions for a couple of hours.”

While the discussion might not be strictly ‘unscripted’, relying on set proposals and culminating in partner votes, the day is understood to be about freer discussion than the April conference.

The expected decision on the IB would be the second governance change in recent months. In September the firm scrapped its commercial group, to be replaced by a standalone litigation group headed by Michael Bennett (15 September 2014)

Excessive management has been on the agenda for a string of firms in recent months, with Clifford Chance the most recent to slash the number on its executive board in a dramatic overhaul.

The firm voted to cut practice group representation on its management committee from six to three and replace its practice area representatives with three new global business units (24 July 2014).

Linklaters declined to comment on the proposals.