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Would you mourn if your firm was no more?

Just how much attachment do you have to your firm beyond an email address and headed note paper?

Do you feel a surge of loyalty every time you walk past the water feature in reception? Do you relish rivals’ struggles and recoil in horror when your own paymasters start to toil? Or are you a brand of your own? A recognised leader in your field with a client list and Twitter following you could pack up and take with you anytime you want?

And if so, could you make it on your own, unchained from the shackles of the corporation and set free to know that the more you put in, the more you take home?

The ‘self-brand’ is nothing new – back in 2000, Naomi Klein asked in her book No Logo ‘why we should depend on the twists and turns of large institutions for our sense of self?’.

You can see it in my own world of journalism. The likes of Mehdi Hasan and Toby Young are brands in their own right, and just as likely to be Googled as the publications they write for.

So what does this matter to the legal profession? Hopefully, a great deal, otherwise we’ve both just wasted the last two minutes.

Last week poor old Cobbetts felt the bite of recession and announced it was up for sale. With remarkable speed DWF was waiting in the wings, like a Casanova ear-wigging a relationship break-up with a bunch of flowers in his hand.

The majority of staff are, apparently, saved, although how DWF plans to fit 400-plus Cobbetts refugees into its offices is a mystery only a Tetris champion could answer.

But what now for their brand loyalty? Is it possible to simply switch mind-sets so quickly? To cheer for a new team within the space of a week? I admire their resolve if they can, but who would blame any solicitor thinking of jumping ship to a new firm, or profession, in search of some stability?

The issue of loyalty and self-branding came up this week at a meeting with business firm Keystone Law.

Formed 10 years ago, it doesn’t play by conventional rules. There are no water features and expensive art works in reception here. In fact there’s barely a reception.

There is a back-office staff of 15 who do all the form-filling, box-ticking and regulation-meeting you need, leaving the 120 or so lawyers the freedom to do the actual job they trained for.

The firm claims to have wooed partners and senior associates – with an average of 18 years’ experience in the profession – from several of the major firms in this country. (Who knows, maybe they’re even talking with Cobbetts staff as we speak?). Joiners bring with them a client base more interested in the lawyer than the employer and who can operate in whatever environment they want, including in-house.

The lawyers keep 75% of whatever they bring in – the rest pays for the back-room functions. The firm hired 10 new recruits this week and has ambitious plans to take turnover to £25m next year.

Would it work for you? The firm says its lawyers have regular social occasions and collective CPD training, but some may miss the comfort blanket of the firm. Some may even miss those precious water-cooler moments.

But one thing is for certain – our employer-employee relationship is changing all the time. If your firm changed hands tomorrow, would you care? And what is the bigger brand – the name after the @ in your email address or the one before it?

John Hyde is a Gazette reporter

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