Giles frets as commercial realities kick in at the start-up
Not for the first time that week, Giles found himself drumming his fingers on his desk.
Well, not drumming exactly. The ‘lo-gloss supa-tuff’ manicure he had got from the diminutive Korean woman near Liverpool Street station meant the sound was more a kind of staccato ticking, like a mouse hammering on a tiny manual typewriter.
Still, it beat biting his nails, which his corporate mentor at Big Firm said would ruin his chances of partnership there. It showed anxiety. And anxiety was exactly what the other side in a deal should not, under any circumstances, get a whiff of.
But Giles was anxious, dammit.
In Big Firm – he found anonymising it helped defeat the wave of nostalgia, which threatened to break over him every time anything went wrong here – work just kind of fell through the door. Marketing was a dirty word, and partners wafted from breakfast at The Delaunay to lunch at Duck & Waffle to dinner at Hawksmoor, oozing the kind of pinstriped assurance that attracted big deals magnetically.
Oh, sure, as an associate you learned about the principles of ‘business development’, which is what ‘marketing’ had morphed into. (Rather like Lady Gaga transitioning from carnivorous couture to vomiting coloured goo over her audience, it was equally distasteful, just in a different way.) But as you never got to meet clients on a one-to-one basis for any length of time there was no danger of you actually having to put any of the principles into practice.
It was different in the mid-tier, Giles knew. He still had the occasional brunch with his room-mate from Law School, Simon, who had made partner the previous year at his Midtown – ghastly word, ghastly concept – firm, an achievement which, in Simon’s telling, cast him as last gladiator standing in a bloodied arena. Simon had always been a scrapper and Giles was well-aware that in evolutionary terms, Simon would have eaten him for breakfast.
But Simon’s kind were erased from Big Firm at two or three years’ qualified, usually on the grounds of ‘lack of technical ability’ – sometimes spurious, sometimes near the mark – leaving only the “right sort”, the Chosen, and that hallowed bunch included Giles. Big Firm partners were the landed gentry of the legal profession and their chosen inheritors all too often acted like trust fund kids – privileged, smug and complacent.
Complacency, Giles knew, would blend into confidence at partner level, smugness into assurance, and privilege into the kind of gravitas that became cold steel around the negotiation-table. But he had abandoned all that and felt bereft of the kind of skills he now needed.
Maybe he should give Simon a call. And say what? Give us a few tips for old times’ sake, mate? Doesn’t matter that I’ve been earning more than you for the last eight years, even when you became partner; forgive me for lording it over you at brunch, for all my condescending “uh-huh”s and “must be tough”s?
“It’s a dangerous thing, you know.”
Giles started. He’d never get used to the ‘no doors’ thing and Clara had a way of moving around the office like some kind of wraith. “What is?” he spluttered.
“Thinking. I thought you corporate lawyers were supposed to be all action. Dangerous to let your brains engage.”
“Yes, well it’s quite difficult when you’ve nothing to action,” he said, more testily than he had intended.
Clara seemed to forgive him his tone. “I guess at – what do you call it? – ‘Big Firm’, you just sat at your desk waiting for the next deal to fall through the door.”
Giles felt a little shiver xylophone up his spine. Perhaps she did have ghoulish psychic powers.
“Well, guess what,” she continued, untroubled by his troubled expression. “No doors here! No barriers to action. Ok, gotta zip. Toodles.” She wafted away.
Dammit, the ghoul – girl – was right. No doors here. No barriers. Giles felt his confidence returning. The one thing Big Firm had bred into him, being one of the Chosen, was the one thing Simon, bless him, would never have: class. That, and a ruthless cunning. You simply couldn’t survive ten years in such a rarefied environment with a one in twenty chance of partnership unless you were cunning. Time to bring that to the fore.
He bent to his drawer and reached for the ‘Principles of Business Development in Law Firms’ handout he had rescued from that last seminar with Big Firm’s marketing director, and began, for the first time, to actually read the damned thing. It was, as he had thought at the time, almost entirely useless for the Byzantine world of Big Firm, but he could see how it provided a good, quite rough-and-ready guide to the world Simon inhabited.
He was determined things would be different. He had felt this determination when he resigned, a blazing self-confidence coupled with…what was it exactly? An urge. An urge to do things differently, to break up the cosy network of old boy B.S. he had been party to and was expected to inherit.
He wasn’t saying the Big Firm partners were without talent. Of course not. But far too many of them were just very average lawyers who had made partner at the right time and coasted on legacy relationships and churned deals.
He wasn’t sure if it was his Irish blood – he had always fancied it was – but it sparked in him a kind of fury, a loathing of the privilege and injustice privilege conferred.
No more! He was going to do things differently from now on, and in so doing he would shed the burden of guilt that being part of that Establishment had laid on his shoulders.
His grandmammy would be proud of him. He knew that now.
So where to start? Begin at the beginning. Who do you know?
Giles smiled. The world of privilege, from school to uni to Big Firm, had gifted him a blue chip contact book that he had shepherded assiduously, but never – in the best traditions of privilege – relied upon.
Until now. Time for action.