It is often rightly noted that law is a conservative old game, as can be gleaned from the identikit strategies of City law firms. Invest in transactional work and international offices, manage your partnership proactively, half-heartedly corporatise the business and hire a load of non-lawyer professionals with dubious mandates.Makes sense right? Except when everyone else does it. Turns out there is a little thing called supply and demand and if you are chasing clients in the same place as everyone else, it is harder to make a buck.
And as the entertaining, buccaneering, bling-styled ascent of Mishcon de Reya illustrates, going your own way can be obscenely good business and fun to boot. Mishcon wanted to change in the 1990s but still decided to stick to what it was good at.
Luckily what Mishcon was good at proved to be a licence to print money as disputes, private client and real estate boomed even as larger City law firms looked elsewhere. As ever the most important thing in business and life is being lucky but you don’t move Harvard Business School case studies saying that.
Still, as we address in this month’s cover feature, there was a bit more to it than that. There were plenty of West End law firms with broadly comparable practice groups that failed to get anywhere near the gravity-defying growth achieved by Mishcon. The key to its success was longevity and culture.
A group of a dozen or so talented individuals with chemistry, trust and ambition clubbed together to begin Mishcon’s reinvention 20 years ago. That gave the firm a consistency, coherence and the ability to think creatively. That group of individuals allowed the firm to create an ethos and culture that has served the firm well – light on bureaucracy and status and long on entrepreneurial energy and personal ownership.
It is not a very complicated model – law is not a complex business – but Mishcon did a better job than peers of keeping the good stuff of the law firm model while being ready to slap on loads of new kit when required, such as non-lawyer professionals who aren’t third-raters.
This model was reinforced by a culture that largely lives up to its billing. When most law firms talk about culture and values, you check your wallet – but Mishcon really sells it. Take that substance and add the firm’s audacious approach to flogging the brand and you have the most distinctive formula for success currently in the LB100.
Of course, sustaining that potent mix as the firm grows and its inner circle hands over will be a challenge. Indeed, the normal lag of reputation suggests that by the time your firm is getting bigged up on the cover of magazines, the glory days have already passed. But if there is one firm you imagine defying the laws of gravity a few years more… well, you know the name by now.