Fellow Londoners, brace yourselves: O-Day approaches.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve had our appetite whetted by euphemistic logos, bizarre cycloptic mascots, surface-to-air missiles, security fiascos and a spiraling £12 billion ($19 billion) bill. With public apathy reaching frenzied levels, it is now time for the main event. In exactly one week, global audiences will watch bewildered as some cows, ducks, and a horse-drawn plow trample a rain-soaked stadium to mark the opening of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Any major sporting or cultural event is normally punctuated by a series of mostly tacky law firm cash-ins, as leading practices try desperately to shoehorn references to the occasion into otherwise generic client or press receptions. I can just picture it now: a law firm bash with gold, silver and bronze-colored cocktails and tracksuited waiters serving Olympic onion rings. (In the unlikely event that any fast-food chain executives are reading this, I am willing to sell the rights to Olympic Onion Rings™ for a very reasonable fee.)
But in a pleasing and surprising display of restraint, the expected swathe of Games-themed law firm parties has failed to materialize. The managing partner of one U.S. firm’s London office, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that the prohibitive costs associated with what is set to be the most expensive Olympics ever—corporate tickets for marquee events such as the 100-meter final start at £2,000 ($3,130) each—had caused his firm to steer clear.
“The tickets are too expensive and the corporate events even more so,” he says. “We felt that trying to do it on the cheap would be counterproductive, so decided it was best to do nothing at all.”
Others have evidently come to the same conclusion, save for a few notable exceptions.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which as the official legal advisor of the Olympics and Paralympics has stronger ties to the Games than most firms, held a party earlier this summer during which reigning K-1 1000-meter canoe sprint Olympic champion Tim Brabants gave an impressive demonstration of power and technique on an indoor rowing machine. Guests were even able to have a go themselves, with varying degrees of success. At the end of July, Italy’s Gianni, Origoni, Grippo, Cappelli & Partners will host an evening soiree in London attended by several members of the country’s Olympic squad.
But one of the most interesting—and meaningful—events is being held by national U.K. firm Eversheds. Next Wednesday, just two days before the Games begin, Eversheds will celebrate the conversion of its London office into “Athletes House.” Slick branding aside, the firm’s headquarters will for the duration of the Olympics serve as a temporary home for nonprofit organizations SportsAid and the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS), both of which provide financial support to young athletes during the early stages of their careers. (TASS is normally based in Newcastle, in the north of England. SportsAid already has a small office in London, but will be taking advantage of the larger available space at Eversheds to provide hospitality for athletes, alumni, sporting governing bodies, coaches, and commercial partners.)
Eversheds London senior partner Anthony Arter says the event is “not about just trying to cynically take advantage of the Games being held in London.”
“Whether you believe it or not, it’s not about trying to get publicity or maximize our brand,” Arter says. “In fact, if it wasn’t for our commitment to SportsAid we wouldn’t have done anything [during the Olympics] at all, as running any event in central London over this period will be very difficult logistically. But one of the reasons I’m genuinely proud to be a partner at this firm is that we truly believe in giving something back to the community. We’re really proud of the work SportsAid does, and we’re delighted to be able to help.”
Eversheds has been working with SportsAid since 2005, and currently sponsors 20 athletes annually to the tune of £1,000 ($1,560) each. The organization has had some remarkable success stories in recent years: Its alumni includes the U.K.’s most decorated Olympian ever, rower Sir Steve Redgrave; fellow Olympic gold medalists Sir Chris Hoy, Dame Kelly Holmes, Rebecca Adlington OBE, and Christine Ohuruogu MBE; current Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins CBE; marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe MBE; reigning 400-meter hurdles world champion Dai Greene; and wheelchair athlete Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who has won no fewer than 11 Paralympic gold medals.
Hoping to join them in the history books at this year’s Games are three of the Eversheds-funded athletes.
Aged just 16, Hannah Starling, whom Eversheds sponsored in 2009, 2010, and 2011, recently qualified to represent Great Britain as part of the Olympic diving team, while table tennis player Victoria Bromley, 26, and soccer goalkeeper Lewis Skyers, also 26, will both participate in the Paralympics.
Those that wish to donate to SportsAid can do so here.
It’s nice to see that the Olympics is inspiring some intense—if perhaps misplaced—competitive urges among the legal elite.
In a previous installment of Continental Breakfast this April, I wrote about how London’s largest law firm offices are facing potentially serious issues surrounding staff travel, logistics, and security as a result of the Games. A condensed version of the article appeared in the June issue of The American Lawyer, with an illustrated map showing some of the law firms unlucky enough to have offices near one of 88 travel “hotspots”—areas that London’s public transport agency says will either be “busier than usual” or “exceptionally busy” during the Games.
After the magazine was published, I received an e-mail from the director of communications at an international law firm, saying its managing partner was “distressed” that his firm was not featured in the piece. The firm’s London office is a short walk from St Paul’s station, which has been designated in the most severe category of disruption, meaning waits of more than 30 minutes for those trying to board trains.
I know there’s apparently no such thing as bad publicity, but I’m still scratching my head on this one.
Chris Johnson is The American Lawyer‘s chief European correspondent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @chris_t_johnson.