Wednesday, June 27, 2007

By the waters of Lehman’s I sat down and wept

3am. Monday morning. It’s a bank – one of the bigger ones but not so prestigious as, say, Goldmans or MS. Like Lehman Brothers, but not Lehman Brothers. The Seller's on the other side of the room, surrounded by his phalanx of flunkeys; lawyers, bankers etc. You’re a flunkey on the Buyer's side, but since the documents have to sign by close of play today a whole roomful of tired bankers are pretending to listen to you negotiating the SPA with Seller's lawyers like they care about whether the Vendor Protection lasts for 6 months or 6 decades after they get their commission on the sale. By now they’re mostly dozing off anyway. And you, you sit there thinking of your miserable salary as a 33-year-old junior partner – which is probably less than Weil Gotshal is paying its NQs – and of how much sleeping beauty (probably at least 6 years your junior) down the table is getting paid for snoozing his way through the discussion, and something dies inside you.

To an extent it’s all relative. Wage serfs outside the top 20 firms probably feel equally annoyed at the sums NQs at, say, US firms get paid, and when it comes to casting envious eyes toward Private Equity houses, bankers aren’t only as bitter as lawyers are when we contemplate their huge bonuses, they’re more bitter. Then again, with the rumours that Red Gordon is going to nationalise the PE industry now that he's got the top job, reducing the European head of Blackstones to sitting with a cardboard placard and a tin cup outside Charing Cross Station, and with former Masters of the Universe already fleeing the country concealed in the undercarriage of private jets to escape debtor's prison when tax on carried interest is raised to 99.9% , a bit of the shine’s probably gone.

But clearly something is wrong here. I mean it seems like half the scurrilous bankerblogs are written by closet lawyers (yeah, LSO, I’m looking at you – and didn't the guy who wrote FIASCO quit banking to be a corporate lawyer?) There’s bound to be a lot of crossover and plenty of friction between the two professions which can’t all be down to pay. Mostly down to pay, maybe, but not all. In fact I think the deeper rift is between two professions who see:

Lawyers (n.): losers who couldn’t make it in banking because (i) they waste time theorising about irrelevant ‘legal issues’, (ii) don’t have prestigious economics degrees, (iii) can’t count past three without getting lost, and (ix) get paid less than bankers do.

Bankers (n.): arrogant twats who (i) waste time going in circles because they can’t understand simple legal issues even when explained to them in Peter-and-Jane language; (ii) don’t have prestigious law degrees; (iii) bullshit their way through meetings because they don’t know anything about the deals they’re on, and (iv) get paid more than lawyers do.

I don’t see this divide getting bridged any time soon, even though there's a fair amount of movement between the two professions - bankers becoming lawyers and vice-versa. Before then, you've got a lot of late nights and a lot of arsey calls from 22-year-old bankers to take. Happy days.

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