One may fervently hope that regular readers have come to expect certain recurring customs here at Adam Smith, Esq., and today we honor that expectation with our usual “Letter from _____,” when we’ve just returned from a significant trip and have some market intelligence to report.

Going to London as regularly as we do—but typically at decent internals—is a bit analogous to getting together with an old friend you only see perhaps two to four times per year. Nothing has drastically changed, but a sufficient span has usually elapsed that the impact of cumulative forces may be more visible to you than to your friend himself. So with our visits to our second favorite city.

This time around the highlights can be summarized as:

  • Brexit—now what?
  • Having fun at work,
  • Concentrating marketing spend more purposefully and narrowly, and
  • AI.

Brexit

To borrow William Goldman’s famous phrase about Hollywood, “Nobody knows nuttin’.” Understandably so, since there is next to nothing to absolutely know at the moment. Interestingly, as a non-Londoner, one of my minor observations was that Prime Minister May seems to be a polarizing figure—at least based on our very limited and hardly random sample. Characteristizations ranged from “an undeservedly promoted civil servant” to “a superb poker player—by callling the special election, she left the EU to stew in its own juices for two months while Britain is AWOL. Brilliant!”

To be fair, it’s wrong to say “nothing” is known. Major financial institutions are already, perforce, laying contingency plans to expand operations in, e.g., Frankfurt and Dublin. I’m not sure there’s any reason to imagine that threatens BigLaw, however. We have a habit of uncharacteristic agility when it comes to following our clients.

Another plausible hypothesis is that Brexit will increase, not diminish, the importance of the New York/London axis. Fine by me, if not exactly the most welcome dynamic of causation.

And then there’s the admittedly minority view that it’s a non-event. “Passporting”post-dated the rise of the City as the European/Middle East capital center, so what’s new and insurmountable if it goes away again? I find this last view too glib, but probably the only sound thing to be said at the moment is that time will tell.

Having fun at work

This was one of two topics that spontaneously came up in several meetings and conversations, and was novel to us, but I love the fact that people can raise the concept out loud and declare its importance. One firm reported to us that it came up in the context of their just-concluded annual partner retreat where a new branding/positioning had been introduced to emphasize all the things that made the firm distinctive—and they are in the small minority of firms that can properly claim that attribute. They are different, and different with clear client benefits. But after the end of the presentation, one of the partners took the floor and announced she had to add that it was a fun place to work. We were told everyone instantly recognized that to be true.

At another firm it came in the form of the senior partner telling us that part of the training/acculturation of associates is to emphasize to them that if they’re not having fun, something is wrong and they need to seek guidance. He has a point, of course, and it goes beyond “morale” or “satisfaction.”

I can say this from first-hand experience, having spent far too long miserable as a baby litigation associate. I’m not a litigator. I didn’t belong there. And I knew within about two weeks that those who did belong and were thriving emotionally were also going to outperform intellectually and professionally. If you’re struggling to give 85% and those around you are giving 110% without breaking a sweat, the upshot is already clear. (Happy to report that after some unjustifiably time-consuming career writhings I was able to shift over to securities law, vastly more in sync with my worldview and disposition.)

Be that as it may, our Senior Partner friend has a point.

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