It’s been another eventful year on the front lines of the City and global legal profession marked by mergers, expensive transfers of big-name partners and sharply-dividing fortunes of individual law firms. Underpinning this are ominous structural shifts in the industry thanks to changing buying behaviour and technology. A consultant friend of mine asked last week if I thought the profession was being complacent because dramatic change has yet to happen. My view is that the problem is not that change has yet to be felt, it is that it is clearly happening already but many prestigious law firms remain in denial.
Anyway, to chart a turbulent 2017, we took a quick look back through our coverage this year to pick out a few pieces that highlighted the key issues impacting the profession. We have divided the list below into a section on some of our set-piece features for subscribers and a second set of recommendations of shorter comment pieces that we have also made available in open access form online.
We’ll be taking a short break on updating Legal Business’ website until early January but we would like to thank readers for their support and suggestions to improve our coverage (always gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org). Judged on the material below, there will be plenty for our team to chew on in 2018 but for now I’d like to wish you all a Happy Christmas, New Year and a well-earned break.
Analysis and long-form (£)
The GC Powerlist: The Clients of Tomorrow. Our flagship GC report returned in a new format dedicated to two kinds of clients set to be shaping the industry in the years to come. The first section focused on up-and-comers at major plcs and institutional clients, while a second strand looked at legal teams in much-touted growth companies. We further explored the theme of GCs at high-growth firms in Rebels with a Clause, which focused on the development of the Disruptive GC group. Amid our GC coverage, a standout analysis was Whose dime? in which we covered the heated debate regarding the drive to write off junior lawyers’ time. Is it the thin edge of the wedge?
One of the most debated topics of the year was the collapse of the European arm of King & Wood Mallesons. Having the previous summer laid bare the problems facing the firm in one of our most read features, we returned to the subject in March to chronicle the final year of the legacy SJ Berwin in forensic detail in the piece Shattered.
Perhaps our most memorable article of the summer was an in-depth investigation of the impact and prospects of the legal arms of the major accountancy groups, in Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Four? Here, we went against consensus to take a jaded view and question the Big Four’s commitment to the sector. Whether that downbeat assessment proves justified or not will tell you much about the shape of the legal industry in the decades to come.
Our September edition brought readers our flagship LB100 report (pictured), in which we exhaustively covered a challenging financial year for the industry and City toiling in the shadow of political uncertainty and Brexit.
In a year of big forces assailing the profession, we in October assembled an A-list roster of clients and senior partners to debate the prospects for global law firms, highlights of which were recorded in the feature Irresistible Forces.
Picking up some of these themes in our last issue of 2017 we investigated the upheaval in the UK legal market since the banking crisis that has seen a number of mid-tier players dramatically outclass larger firms for a sustained period. Our resulting cover feature, Reversal of fortunes, took a closer look at three stand-out firms to find up why they have excelled.
Rounding off the year, if one article highlighted the building tension in the City and global legal market as US and UK rivals fight for dominance, it was the October/November cover feature, The Departed, which swiftly became the most viewed online feature Legal Business produced in 2017. The piece, which focused on the track record of the growing number of partners that have quit the Magic Circle for US advisers, drew some very uncomfortable conclusions for the City elite and foreshadowed the headline-grabbing departure this week of Freshfields’ private equity veteran David Higgins for Kirkland & Ellis. The question for many in 2018 will be whether London’s top law firms have a more compelling strategic response to the US question that has dogged them with increasing threat for a decade.
Some of our shorter takes on the market which we also published in open-access online form included:
Hot private equity money is remaking Europe’s legal market – Our view on the forces reshaping the legal profession in the most competitive sector of the deal market.
Myths and monsters – how KWM got swallowed by its own culture – Our final word on the lessons of the demise of the old SJ Berwin.
What’s the point of Baker McKenzie? (And does Paul Rawlinson have an answer?) – A provocative slant on the issues facing a global giant that has always promised a little more than it delivered.
What ails Freshfields? Time is running out for ‘The Last Champions’ – We cast a critical eye over the malaise at one of the City’s most celebrated firms.
The Legal Services Act ten years on – still waiting for the Big Bang – Our take on the much-hyped deregulation of the world’s second largest legal market.
Ditching lockstep – better too late than never? – We stake our position on the key debate on remuneration that the industry has largely avoided having.
Anyway, that’s all, folks. Have a great holiday and we’ll see you soon in 2018.