Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Archive for May 10th, 2011

Competition Parties

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We recently received invitations to a new breed of parties. On 4 May, Compass Lexecon was having its “Exclusive Spring Party” (with “drinks and canapés“). Two days later, Crowell & Moring held its “CroMo Party” at Tour and Taxis (with DJ BENNY…).

Unfortunately, I could not attend any of those parties.

Yet, a question arose: what drives business law firms and economic consultancies to organize such summer parties?

In the case of Compass Lexecon, the answer is straightforward. The firm sought to celebrate the launch of Compass Lexecon Europe, following the acquisition of LECG’s EU Competition Policy Group. This party was a classic reception, similar in nature to many other receptions.

The case of Crowell and Moring is more interesting.  The flyer and dressing code (“colorful casual”) suggest that CroMo’s party was primarily targeted at young professionals (from Cromo and elsewhere) rather than at partners and clients. No information was provided on drinks, but I suspect they came for free. There was no special thing to celebrate.

So why organize a loss-making party of this kind? Initially, the following reasons came to mind: acquiring information on competing law firms, possibly with the help of liquid substances; increasing busy associates’ procreation rate; assuaging partners’ midlife crisis.

On second thoughts, however, I dismissed most of them in favour of a more conventional explanation which has to do with “branding”. It plays at several levels.

First, with the commoditization of the profession, legal services are increasingly fungible. Clients shop around and competition amongst law firms becomes brutal. To prevail over rivals, law firms seek to be perceived as special. For a number of years now, law firms have organized academic conferences to look bright. Now, they organize parties to look cool, hype and creative.

Second, as stressed by Alfonso a while ago, there is an increasingly pervasive perception amongst students that working in a business law firm is “not cool”. Being an associate in a business law firm involves long working hours, little freedom and virtually no space for leisure and family life. This has dramatic consequences on law firms’ hiring opportunities. And unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, financial compensation no longer does the trick. No wonder why some law firms seek to change their image amongst young lawyers, and arguably organize parties to that end.

Please note that we are interested by pictures, feedback and stories in connection with those parties.

Written by Nicolas Petit

10 May 2011 at 8:06 pm