One regional managing partner of a global firm—a Brit, not an American, which will be germane in a second—noted that when he got out of university and was considering where do his training contract, there were “50 plausible” firms in the City of London with perfectly respectable pedigrees.  Ten to fifteen years ago  he opined there might have been a dozen or two, but today?  “Seven.  Period.”

Impressionistically, I’d confirm something similar has happened here in New York.  The numbers would be slightly different but the direction of change and the magnitudes would be very similar.

Assuming you agree on these observations, “Why? What has happened?”

I must confess, this was a brand-new thought to me, but it surely has the ring of hard truth.  So having just started to reflect on it, I have only the most general, and I fear rather unhelpful, explanation: The world has gotten tougher.  Clients are notoriously more demanding, institutional loyalty is a distant memory, and the competitive bar among firms for talent and high-margin work is moving up into the thin air.  So far so good, so stipulated.

But my problem with this is it’s not an explanation; it’s a description.

Positing that markets move continuously towards higher-performance territory, so this is merely nature taking its course and what-else-would-you-expect, is not exactly true.  Some markets are happy to devolve into fungible, commodity offerings—on that theory my friend’s “50” could now be 100 or 150.

In short, a fascinating observation which remains in need of a theory to explain it.


In the context of a discussion comparing New York and London as law firm markets, a Brit (this provides context) asserted with some confidence that “Americans [and a fortiori New Yorkers] just plain work harder than Brits.”  For me—or any American/New Yorker—to put this forth so flat-footedly would be the height of political incorrectness, and it would reek self-congratulation and haughtiness to boot.  But I have to admit that, as a generalization, he probably has a point.

The specific “hook” for his remark is that this is the week during which England’s “half term” school holidays fall, and a partner had announced that he would be absenting himself from a rather important firm event for the half term observation.

Would that happen in the US?  Inconceivable; in New York no partner would even breathe a word of such a holiday if it conflicted with a semi-obligatory work event.  (Personally, I confess that in the early years of Adam Smith, Esq.’s work in the London market, I found it baffling that with very few exceptions emails to the UK went unanswered during the 10 days or two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s; now I simply expect it.)

As with the first point above, I have no explanation for this and I’m not so daft as to venture one—I leave it to cultural historians and psychologists—but it has fairly obvious implications for economic performance if you’re fortunate enough to have both New York and London offices at your firm.

Of course, the Brits may be dead right on this one.  But ex-pats going on both directions need to know what to expect.

Still in all, my Second Favorite City and it always will be.

Shepherd’s Market, Mayfair, early evening

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