Just for fun, let’s imagine that the U.K.’s departing prime minister, Boris Johnson, was a law firm leader.
A fellow partner is accused of bullying. He ignores it. A fellow partner breaks COVID rules. He ignores it. Amid a firmwide diversity push, he utters racial and homophobic epithets with impunity. He pushes for higher salaries…for partners. He attends partners-only lockdown parties, but tells his employees they never happened, despite an outside firm concluding otherwise. He tries to change the firm’s LLP agreement to exonerate a fellow partner who broke firm rules. And then again to save his own skin. He pushes a third party to hand him a six-figure sum so he can pimp out his corner office.
You might think this is pretty extreme—is this really a teachable moment for the legal sector? Partners themselves have been pretty forthright in expressing outrage over Boris’s conduct, with many telling Varsha Patel and Rose Walker that it was right that ‘shameless’ Johnson was resigning, pouring scorn on the soon-to-be ex-leader; “good riddance”, one commenter added.
Michael Chissick, former managing partner of Fieldfisher, too was anxious to purge any Johnson/lawyer parallels: “Lawyers are seen as rich, over-entitled people but really we’re doing great things on D&I and driving the country forward and bringing in lots of money internationally.”
But Johnson is what happens when power goes unchecked.
Johnson is what happens when leaders surround themselves with ‘yes’ people, and when diversity of people and opinions becomes contemptible.
Boris’s misdemeanors are, for the most part, plain to see. But in law, contempt tends to manifest more subtly: An eye-roll from a partner. An ‘okay, I’ll get back to you on that’. Failing to acknowledge those outside of your bubble of familiarity. Failing to listen to people in all strands of your firm. And this is to say nothing of our stories of the past couple of years spotlighting sexual misconduct, associate burn-out, and general lawyer bad behavior. (For a recent example, see our story last month about Ince lawyers allegedly abusing a restaurant employee.)
It’s hard to cultivate new (good) habits, and easy to slip back into old ones. But it’s the leadership that sets the tone and agenda of its firm.
And that concept doesn’t bode well for Dechert, whose desperate descent into controversy continued after lawyers for their former client ENRC, Hogan Lovells, accused the Philadelphia firm’s management of being complicit in ex-partner Neil Gerrard’s illicit scheming to extract more money from their former client. (The U.K. legal regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, is taking its first steps into an investigation into possible breaches of its code of conduct—just one skipped heartbeat among many for Dechert’s leadership).
One thing that can help is a fresh start. People in the U.K. don’t know who their next leader will be—but former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is the bookies’ favorite. Whoever ‘wins’ the post starts with the unenviable task of repairing public trust, lost long ago in a mire of scandals and headlines that would be shocking were we not so numb to them. But there’s also an opportunity: to revamp government—a quite significant mandate and responsibility—and set the tone for a nation looking to re-establish itself on the world stage post-Brexit.
What kind of tone will be set by Hogan Lovells’ new global managing partner Phoebe Wilkinson and incoming Uría Menéndez senior partner Jesús Remón (both of whom were announced as new leaders last week)?
In an age in which change is continuous, and scrutiny comes quick and without mercy, leaders must maintain integrity and be bold.
And Kobre & Kim co-founder Michael Kim is certainly bold. To take on a lucrative mandate for Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in the current climate, you have to be bold—Abramovich being a noted pariah in the business world following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As Bruce Love reports, Kobre & Kim will bill Russian oligarch Abramovich up to $1,450 an hour as it helps him craft a government relations strategy in response to scrutiny from U.S. agencies, according to a U.S. Justice Department filing.
Now I don’t want to make any assumptions about why Kobre & Kim decided to take the mandate. I mean, your guess is as good as mine.
But hey, so long as you conduct yourself with honesty and integrity, perhaps you can make principled choices that might be unpopular in certain quarters. A concept lost on poor old Boris.