The Leader Column

What's this pair thing going on with Theodore Goddard (TG) partners? Last week we revealed that employment partners Peter Cooke and Jane Bullen had resigned to go to Salans. Banking partners Michael Black and Jayesh Patel are about to jump to Denton Wilde Sapte. And, as we report in this week's issue, corporate partners Graham Stedman and Paul Salmon are also set to join Salans.

The fact that there have been so many departures to international firms points to the frustration following last year's collapse of Theodores' merger talks with Salans. But it also points to a malaise within the corporate practice, which is now starting to look alarmingly depleted.

TG still has some decent private M&A work and solid relationships with a number of mid-tier intermediaries. The £140m AIM flotation of Australian pharmaceutical company Marshall Edwards is a good indicator of its current market clout. But the TG management is well aware that it needs to act fast if it doesn't want to blow its chances.

It's still debatable whether Salans was the right answer for Theodore Goddard, but then you can't always get what you want. Sometimes you just have to settle for what's right in front of you – sacrifice the ideal for the reality. Call it Salans' revenge if you like, but taking on four partners from the firm which rejected you – including the former managing partner – well, you might as well just belt out I Will Survive while you're at it. And with TG's average profits per equity partner having fallen by 20 per cent to £350,000 while at Salans they've jump to £401,000, it's Salans whose star is now on the rise.

Theodore Goddard should have done a Gouldens, which cannily realised that it had to sell out as near to the top of the market as it could, and managed to get a two-year profit guarantee out of Jones Day into the bargain.

Still, the departure of Black and Patel – always the most vocal opponents of merger – may finally allow TG to do something. Perhaps it should tackle something even more fundamental; the culture which never lets management take a decision, something underlined by Nigel West's election this year on the consensus ticket.

You might think a cosy culture would keep partners. But lawyers want to be loved and led at the same time – something, by the way, which Lovells has now realised. Otherwise Theodore Goddard partners will simply keep on leaving, two by two, just to get out of the rain.