International law firms have begun holding partner conferences again, with several taking place over the last month, following a quiet couple of years during which the COVID-19 pandemic scuppered large in-person events.
Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner all held conferences during May, according to partners at the firms, and several others are planning events for later in the year.
A&O’s event took place in Barcelona earlier in May and was its first in-person partner conference since 2019.
One London A&O partner said: “I really believe the value of these events is the interaction between partners. It’s always good to make sure the firm is aligned on strategy, doing things it needs to do in terms of diversity or climate change, etc.
“But the truth about law firms is they’re not very complicated businesses. You don’t need some earth shattering strategy. You just need to be close to your clients,” he added.
Rival Linklaters held its own conference during the second week of May in London. The firm welcomed a brand new management team last year, with both managing partner Paul Lewis and senior partner Aedamar Comiskey taking on their new roles. The pair, leading the conference for the first time, did “a brilliant job”, according to a partner at the firm.
Hot topics also included events deliberately skewed towards the junior generation of partners, who are coming of age in turbulent times, another partner at the firm said.
The conference included a session covering the “transition to being a partner”, covering topics including how to lead and manage a team. That panel consisted of representatives from a range of Linklaters’ global offices, the London partner added.
That partner echoed similar priorities to the A&O partner – that the importance of these in-person retreats really is all in the ‘in-person’ element.
“It was mainly an opportunity to get together. We’ve obviously been chatting virtually but it’s nicer to have those conversations and catch ups in person and see everyone again,” he added.
May has been a popular month for partner conferences, with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner holding its in Orlando in the third week of May. The firm last held an in-person partner retreat in the autumn of 2019 in Dallas, according to a partner at the firm.
While Shearman & Sterling’s Christmas U.K. media reception has been postponed twice due to COVID-19 infection rates in the City, its global partnership conference will be taking place after over two years without an in-person gathering. Shearman’s global partnership will gather next month in Miami.
Some firms have opted for smaller meetings of partners in recent months, when travel restrictions globally have allowed for them. Eversheds Sutherland has organised smaller partner group meetings, with practice or sector focuses, to meet more recently as travel restrictions have eased. The firm is holding a global partner conference in London in September, over four years since its last such meeting took place in New York in June 2018.
Fellow transatlantic firm Hogan Lovells has opted for similar smaller get togethers and will not hold a global partner conference this year, a partner at the firm said, adding that the firm had been organising “smaller, more sector specific conferences”, including a sustainability focused one held on May 10 in London.
The conference was led by four partners, including U.K. M&A co-head Patrick Sarch, and was also attended by several partners from continental Europe, with some others joining virtually, the partner added.
A London partner at Clyde & Co, meanwhile, expects his firm will also choose to hold smaller events – though the partnership does have specific topics to discuss, not least its upcoming merger with BLM.
The partner added that items for any partner get together would likely include “integration with BLM, the post-COVID world and how the firm’s relationship with its lawyers have changed as a result, salary inflation, the war for talent and the retention of that talent.”
Juggernaut Dentons is seemingly rejecting any notion of such small events, however, with a spokesperson confirming that the firm is planning on “having the world’s largest in-person partner meeting”.
Some firms still have decisions to make about holding an in-person event this year, particularly given the different handling of travel and COVID restrictions across international offices. A Bird & Bird London partner said the firm may hold an event towards “the end of the year” but currently doesn’t have anything “locked in” due to “restrictions in some of our markets making that difficult”, pointing to current hard lockdowns in much of Asia as something the firm will need to consider.