Photo by Ed Shanahan
Continental Breakfast is backnow with added breakfast. In a new series of columns, American Lawyer chief European correspondent Chris Johnson will meet with senior figures in the legal world at their favorite breakfast joints to chew over the industry's tastiest talking points. This weeks installment sees him meet the U.K. legal markets longest-serving management figure, Clyde & Co senior partner Michael Payton, at his morning restaurant of choice, One Lombard Street. On the menu: a career spanning five decades and the future of insurance law practice.
It has always struck me as odd the way in which most U.K. law firms are managed. Unlike their American peers, where figures like Orricks Ralph Baxter and Lathams Bob Dell have steered their respective ships for two decades or more, U.K. firm leaders are often limited to much shorter terms. So, three or six or perhaps even eight years after a partner has been plucked from fee-earning and dropped into an entirely unfamiliar role, and just when theyre starting to get the hang of this management malarkey, theyre forced to step aside and let someone else have a go. It just doesnt make sense.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. In this case, none is more pronounced than Clyde & Co senior partner Michael Payton, 68. Having first come into the role in 1984, aged just 39, he is comfortably the longest-serving current management figure of any major U.K. law firm.
Clyde recently announced that, after almost 30 years in charge, Payton will finally stand down when his current five-year term ends this October. The news came as a surpriseto me, at least. During a meeting in late 2011, Payton told me that he hoped to continue in the job for at least another term. As we meet for breakfast on a sunny spring morning, I get the distinct impression that he took some convincing to relinquish the reins.
We all felt it was time for me to step aside and let the next generation come through, he says, having greeted me with a firm handshake. And then, almost as much for his own benefit: I was 100 percent in agreement with that.
Were meeting at One Lombard Street: a long-standing favorite not only of Paytons but of bankers and businessmen throughout London, due to its prime location in the very heart of the citys financial district. Mansion Housethe official residence of the Lord Mayor of Londonis just next door; the Bank of England directly opposite. The building itself is a former Grade IIlisted bank, dating back to 1776.
The grand main restaurant doesnt open until lunch, so we take a table in the adjoining brasserie. A large, open dining area flows around a circular bar that is crowned by a spectacular glass cupola dome, which must measure 20 feet in diameter and floods the space with natural light. Although quiet when I first arrived at 8:15 a.m., the room has filled up quickly and is now positively buzzing. Were surrounded by pinstriped suits and Rolexes. Almost every table is adorned with a copy of the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal. I overhear a nearby group discussing a pitch they are due to deliver after breakfast.
A waiter scuttles over with a notepad and looks at us expectantly. Payton, clearly a regular, doesnt even look at the menu before ordering a grilled kipperhold the tomato, lemon, and parsleyand brown toast.
Its a curious idea that tomato might go with kippers, he says with a sigh and a shake of the head. There must be someone whose job it is to put a tomato on each dish that leaves the kitchen, regardless of what else is on it.