Legal Business Blogs

The Friday Edit: Geffen quits Appold St, the accountants are coming again and human rights factions mainline the moral high ground

Welcome to the latest instalment of our weekly recap of interesting things that happened in law land this week.

Feature of the week: Reaching out, reaching up

We’ve made it no secret at Legal Business that we intend to give more attention to the client community, so it was a pleasure to hold our first GC Power List summer reception recently. Held at The Ivy’s private members’ club, the event included a debate exploring the themes from this year’s GC Power List report, which focused on the career issues facing fast-track in-house counsel. The discussion, chaired by Evening Standard veteran Anthony Hilton, included a mix of established GCs like Legal & General’s Geoffrey Timms and Adrian de Souza of Land Securities, together with names to watch from Royal Bank of Scotland, Shire and ITV. While I have been repeatedly and justifiably moaned at for having no women on the panel, it was otherwise a very engaging night which we will aim to hold annually. Subscribers can click here for a full report.

Story of the week: After a year-long drum roll, Ashurst’s former chief Charlie Geffen quits

It had long been expected, yet was still a blow for Ashurst, when it was this week confirmed that former senior partner Charlie Geffen was to leave, alongside corporate partner Mark Sperotto, for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Geffen was famously defeated in a leadership election in the wake of the firm’s tie-up with Blake Dawson last year and was expected to depart.

But the loss of historically Ashurst’s top corporate partner and one of the brand names in the City’s private equity community will still have hurt. While Geffen has been out of front-line client work for five years, with Sperotto and fellow Ashurst alumni Nigel Stacy and Jon Earle at Gibson – all three with solid reputations – it looks a very credible combination of Geffen’s connections and gravitas alongside a trio of deal men in their prime. With more hires expected, Gibson is a strong prospect to forge the kind of UK corporate practice that a firm with its pedigree and balance sheet should already have. In contrast, Ashurst, already short of Stephen Lloyd after his departure last year for Allen & Overy, is going to have to demonstrate convincingly that it’s still got the M&A chops, because Ashurst without a classy corporate practice just isn’t Ashurst. For more background on the firm’s post-merger challenges, click here or subscribers can see our cover feature from last December, After Charlie’s War.

Theme of the week: Accountants in law

Our most widely read story of the week – KPMG being awarded an ABS licence – speaks to the increasing attention on the renewed legal ambitions of the Big Four accountants. KPMG is the second major accountant to secure an ABS, following PwC earlier this year, while EY has also indicated its intent to expand its legal footprint, including this week signing up a Singapore practice to its network.

Despite having amassed substantial global networks of lawyers, the major accounting groups have had their problems in law since the glory days of the 1990s, when they were widely expected to sweep the market. In reality, success this time around will mean addressing some major cultural and logistical challenges. But if they can hit on a formula that is distinctive rather than competing against the direct strengths of global law firms, and are willing to make a long-term commitment and sacrifice some law firm referral work in their core accountancy business, few doubt they can be potent players.

Something for the weekend:

What better way to warm up for a sunny weekend than to look on in bemusement as all sides get thoroughly worked up about human rights reform in the wake of the Conservative Party’s pledge to sort of abolish the Human Rights Act in favour of a Bill of Rights.

Despite being widely welcomed by pretty much the entire legal profession and judiciary, and having been a success in the eyes of most neutrals, the act has become a lightning rod for a particular brand of conservative thought and habitually enraged sections of the press. There is nothing unusual about governments complaining about restraint of executive power but the fuel on this particular fire is the Conservative Party’s factional rows over Europe and mounting problems with UKIP. Set against that, the human rights lobby does itself no favours in pretending the legislation is beyond reproach and that judicial interference in democracy is always a good thing. In an age where the ideological gap between left and right has narrowed relentlessly, human rights law has at least proved a tribal issue that opposing camps can get satisfyingly steamed up about without listening to what the other side is saying.

Personally, I refuse to get that worked up about reform from a government unlikely to win the next general election but blogger Carl Gardner has a sober walk-through of the policy issues that brings some balance to the proceedings.

That’s me signing off, so enjoy the weekend and remember the October edition of Legal Business hits desks on Monday. It’s big.

This week’s top posts:

We are in recruitment mode’: KPMG breaks new ground with multi-disciplinary ABS

Updated: ‘I like building businesses’ – Ashurst blow as ex-head Geffen quits with corporate partner for Gibson Dunn

82 join the club – eight new partners in City as Kirkland makes up more than Macfarlanes’ entire partnership

Edwards Wildman loses associate quartet to City firms as tensions mount over potential Cooley takeover

Redundancy watch: Parabis Law consolidates after mergers and closes Bristol and Colchester outposts