Law firm executives – Don’t be a Boris Johnson

Just for fun, let’s imagine that the outgoing Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, was a chief of law firm.

A partner is accused of bullying. He ignores her. A partner breaks the COVID rules. He ignores her. Amid a company-wide diversity spurt, he utters racial and homophobic epithets with impunity. He’s pushing for higher salaries… for partners. He attends partner-only lockdown parties but tells his employees that has never happened, despite an outside firm concluding otherwise. He tries to change the company’s LLP agreement to exonerate a co-worker who broke company rules. And again to save his own skin. He tricks a third party into handing him a six-figure sum so he can spruce up his corner office.

You might think that’s pretty extreme – are there really any cautionary tales here for the legal industry? Indeed, many partners expressed outrage at Boris’ conduct, and many said Varsha Patel and rose walker that it was right that Johnson “shamelessly” resignedmany scorning the future ex-chief and saying “good riddance”.

Michael Chissick, former managing partner of Fieldfisher, was also keen to eliminate any Johnson/lawyer parallels: “Lawyers are seen as wealthy, over-empowered people, but we’re really doing great things on D&I and moving the country forward and making a lot of money internationally.”

But Johnson is what happens when power goes unchecked.

Johnson is what happens when leaders surround themselves with “yes” and when the diversity of people and opinions becomes despicable.

Boris’ misdemeanors are, for the most part, obvious. But in law, contempt tends to manifest itself in more subtle ways: a rolled look from a partner. An “Okay, I’ll get back to you on that”. Failing to recognize those outside your familiarity bubble. Not listening to people in all aspects of your business. And that’s to say nothing of our stories from the past two years highlighting sexual misconduct, associate burnout, and general bad behavior by attorneys. (For a more recent example, see our story last month on Ince lawyers abusing a restaurant employee.)

It is difficult to cultivate new (good) habits and easy to resume old ones. But it is leadership that sets the tone and the agenda for the entire company.

That concept doesn’t bode well for Dechert, whose desperate descent into controversy continued after lawyers for their former ENRC client, Hogan Lovells, accused the Philadelphia firm’s management of complicity in the illicit intrigues of ex-partner Neil Gerrard to extract more money from their former client. (UK legal regulator the Solicitors Regulation Authority is taking its first steps in investigating possible breaches of its code of conduct – just one missed heartbeat among many for Dechert management).

One thing that can help is a fresh start. People in the UK don’t know who their next ruler will be, but former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is the bookmakers’ favourite. Whoever “wins” the job begins with the unenviable task of restoring public trust, long lost in a quagmire of scandals and headlines that would be shocking if we weren’t so insensitive to them. But there is also an opportunity: to revamp the government – quite a big mandate and responsibility – and set the tone for a nation seeking 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 new senior partner of Uría Menéndez Jesus Remon (both of whom were announced as new leaders last week)?

At a time when its scrutiny is swift and merciless, leaders must be bold.

And Kobre & Kim co-founder Michael Kim is certainly bold. To take on a lucrative term for Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in the current climate, you have to be bold – Abramovich being a notorious pariah in the business world after Russia invaded Ukraine.

As Bruce Love Reports Kobre & Kim will charge 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, a filing says. US Department of Justice.

Now, I don’t want to make any assumptions about why Kobre and Kim decided to take the warrant. I mean, your guess is as good as mine.

But hey, as long as you conduct yourself with honesty and integrity, maybe you box make policy choices that may be unpopular in some quarters. A lost concept for poor old Boris.

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