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The Briefcase Blog – John Bowie

Blooded Lawyers
The Wall Street meltdown has left lawyers bloodied along with the Masters of the Universe who not only thought they could do no wrong with all their fancy-pants packaged debt but also insisted they be paid most of the money in the universe to prove it. Bad luck, guys. Game over. The Lehmans, Merrills, AIG train wreck has left lawyers in New York and London both dazed and confused, but mostly out of pocket and worried. Proposed law mergers are being terminated and the legal landscape in the New York-London legal power centres is now becoming reshaped, more akin to the surface of Mars with a more level field of vision, pock marked with craters where former clients have died. Suddenly relationships and alliances are all over the place. As Lehman’s 145 in house lawyers turn out the lights, outside lawyers are relying on personal relationships to help their friends “re-surface”, as Linklaters partner Charlie Jacobs said. As with Bear Stearns’ collapse, the in-house lawyers are going back to the firms, to the East, the Mid-East, to Subway franchises and any other place they can find work. It’s a whole new world out there.

Law Firms Everywhere
We’re putting the finishing touches on our law jobs report at LawFuel, a 60 page tome well beyond anything we originally intended, and it’s clear that many New Zealand firms are going to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new, tougher environment. Apart from the sub-prime spinoff and ongoing retention issues, firm numbers are way above other jurisdictions. As legal consultant Ashley Balls commented to me, in the 10 years to 2007 in the UK law firm numbers declined by 10 per cent, whereas in New Zealand the number grew by 27 per cent. Expect a large-scale consolidation in law firm numbers. And we haven’t even talked about the leverage (partner-to-lawyer) ratios.

Dark Days at Messines
It was dark days at home this week with the demise of our family pet. Demi was killed as I left the house last Friday, struck by a motorcyclist near the accursed Russian compound. The road had been hers for 13 years until then. The family were distraught, my wife driving our car to the vet, wailing like an ambulance siren as the sweet natured dog died in my arms. I asked my wife if she would have been as upset if it were me and was met with a disturbing silence. We buried her on Sunday in our small olive grove, the only one in Karori, and recounted her numerous adventures. Her closest friends attended. Justice Wild’s lovely daughter Sarah brought the family terrier Pipi to “show her respects”, as Sarah said. Demi didn’t actually get on with Pipi, due largely to the age difference, and the wee dog gave chase to our cat, as if to stamp out all remaining family pets. Demi would have been impressed. She didn’t like the cat either.

Out-Of-Work-Polly Protection
It’s always baffled me why retired politicians feel the compelling need to sign on for directorships, often in the most extraordinary companies. Recent history is replete with these career-shortening moves. I guess we all want to feel needed, and a little extra income doesn’t hurt, nor the odd belief that status somehow attaches to being a company director. Take the hot water threatening poor old Sir Doug Graham and his political cohorts on Lombard Finance. What possessed him to join the Lombard board? A homeless drunk in the Cuba Mall could have straightened them out on this one. Bill Jeffries and Hugh Templeton are hardly swashbuckling entrepreneurial business leaders known for commercial nous but this sad trend of politicians embarking on a death march to dud companies continues year after year. I strongly suspect the whole concept of the ‘independent director’, there to represent the interests of small shareholders, is largely a waste of time from any practical perspective. For a variety of reasons they seldom fulfil that function notwithstanding their best endeavours. A truly effective independent director is a rare beast indeed. If only there were someone there to protect retired politicians.

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