Allen & Overy’s election delivered an all-star line-up but have the big issues been resolved?

Allen & Overy’s election delivered an all-star line-up but have the big issues been resolved?

Towards the end of 2019, Legal Business remarked that the issue at the heart of Allen & Overy (A&O)’s looming leadership election was if the process would resolve whether the winners could achieve the right to genuinely lead the City giant. Now that the election has concluded, with the re-election of Wim Dejonghe (pictured) as senior partner and the elevation of projects and energy head Gareth Price as managing partner in place of Andrew Ballheimer, it is far from clear that the point has been settled.

That is not a criticism of the calibre of the candidates and winners. Generally regarded as the best managed of the Magic Circle’s four internationalists, A&O certainly attracted a line-up of heavyweight candidates, by no means a given in law firm leadership run-offs. This was most obvious in the contest between Dejonghe and banking co-head Philip Bowden for senior partner and Price and litigation head Karen Seward for the managing partner brief. Continue reading “Allen & Overy’s election delivered an all-star line-up but have the big issues been resolved?”

Cracking Wall St is the prize of the decade for City leaders

Cracking Wall St is the prize of the decade for City leaders

If much of the commentary in this issue focuses on what has gone awry for major UK law firms in the previous decade, this column will tackle one big opportunity ahead and there is no bigger opportunity for City firms than the US.

Now for many, the received wisdom is that the London elite have wasted their chance, leaving the vast US legal market effectively closed to them. There is much to that argument. Had the group built on their initial beachheads in the early 2000s, the picture would be very different now. Clifford Chance (CC) partners still lament the Rogers & Wells tie-up, a mis-sold marriage that nonetheless offered a basis for growth that CC instead spent the next 15 years squandering. Had it achieved a conservative 3-5% annual growth at this practice after the deal, it would be generating over $600m stateside now. Continue reading “Cracking Wall St is the prize of the decade for City leaders”

Remembering Mr Disruption – The innovator’s legacy for the profession

Remembering Mr Disruption – The innovator’s legacy for the profession

Barely into 2020 and news came that probably the most influential business thinker of the last 20 years had passed away. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who died on 23 January at the age of 67, entered the business world and then popular culture with his concept of ‘disruptive innovation’, which was first outlined in 1995. The model came to wider prominence in the 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma and was to grow in stature along with the rise of the US buccaneering technology giants through the 2000s.

As a study of how small upstarts can upend and ultimately crush huge, well-run industry leaders, the book’s ideas spoke to a globalising world economy in which technology and new operating models made it easier for apparently-unrelated industries to collide. Continue reading “Remembering Mr Disruption – The innovator’s legacy for the profession”

The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership

The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership

Astute readers will note that our cover feature on 2020 forecasts spends as much time casting its eye back on the 2010s as looking ahead. Assessments based on observable trends support conclusions that better stand the test of time, but such introspection has lent a jaded tone to the resulting piece. How could it not? The 2010s was a decade that began with bold claims and expectations for the legal industry, yet from the perspective of the elite UK firms, it consistently disappointed. And it is one aspect that perhaps explains much of the wider malaise: the increasingly stark problems with leadership and governance at large London-born law firms.

Back when I first started covering the legal industry, the authority of senior management at top London firms was absolute, or at least appeared so from the outside. Occasionally an imperious managing partner overreached, but in the main London firms, which had until recently been much smaller firms built with close social bonds, allowed small groups of individuals to push through rapid shifts in strategy in the 1990s and 2000s. Continue reading “The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership”

Deal View: After years of missed opportunities Weil flirts with a broader City advance

Deal View: After years of missed opportunities Weil flirts with a broader City advance

Investment in Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ City arm has long come in fits and starts, avoiding broader M&A ambitions to become a well-regarded private equity player, while arguably being outpaced by US rivals Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Questions also linger around who will lead when Mike Francies, its veteran London managing partner, steps down. Is the recent flurry of laterals evidence that Weil is ready to seize the City breakthrough that has long looked frustratingly just out of reach?

For critics, the firm has only itself to blame as Weil has long been held back in London by a lack of cohesion or vision about where to take the practice, even as a group of US rivals have steamed ahead in the last five years. Notes one former partner: ‘Someone senior told me years ago: “We’re not a partnership, we’re a group of individuals who choose to work together.” In the States, it was a restructuring firm and people used to call it “We’ll Get You and Mangle You!”’ Continue reading “Deal View: After years of missed opportunities Weil flirts with a broader City advance”

Letter from… Warsaw: Weil’s withdrawal from CEE marks a new phase, not the end, of international firms’ regional domination

Letter from… Warsaw: Weil’s withdrawal from CEE marks a new phase, not the end, of international firms’ regional domination

Neglected by foreign advisers for years, the Central and Eastern European (CEE) legal markets enjoyed a few moments of popularity in the press as the decade turned. Most notably, the once-formidable force in the region’s transactional space, Weil, Gotshal & Manges closed its three local branches in Budapest (January 2018), Prague (November 2018) and Warsaw (November 2019).

As the only major Wall Street firm with sizeable CEE coverage (excepting obviously White & Case’s very different model), there were specific reasons behind Weil’s withdrawal. These included a strategic move to focus on the key money centres (the firm also left the Middle East in 2017), a huge amount of local government-related work exposing it to the political turmoil and a large domestic client base not inclined to pay the fee levels demanded by the US elite. Continue reading “Letter from… Warsaw: Weil’s withdrawal from CEE marks a new phase, not the end, of international firms’ regional domination”

2020 forecast: City giants forced to offer flexible partnership

2020 forecast: City giants forced to offer flexible partnership

I’m going to resist the urge to bang on about the year in review, Brexit or even offer a 2010s retrospective. Not much changed in the profession during the decade – apart from the much-documented onslaught of US law firms – and one way or another we will still be facing another Brexit cliff edge next year.

So we turn instead to something that touches the industry where it lives and breathes: partnership. It defines those who hold it, elevating some while corrupting others, shapes a huge global industry and remains the dominant motivational tool for the profession. The second most-read commentary I ever wrote at Legal Business was a piece earlier this year noting that major law firms have broken their social contract by pushing partnership promotions ridiculously late (the most read was a 2016 piece saying Ashurst needed to pull itself together). Continue reading “2020 forecast: City giants forced to offer flexible partnership”

Unheralded comes regulation of City law

Unheralded comes regulation of City law

Ask senior figures in the profession what has materially changed in the legal industry over the last decade and answers will likely include musings on technology, innovation and, for more pragmatic souls, the growth of American law firms in Europe.

Such woolly answers speak to the reality that the law looks much like it did ten years ago. What will not be mentioned, however, is what is rapidly emerging as a force with the potential to profoundly reshape the industry: the dawn of proactive regulation of major law firms. Continue reading “Unheralded comes regulation of City law”

If A&O’s new team can’t get a mandate, who can?

If A&O’s new team can’t get a mandate, who can?

Writing at the end of November, with this issue hitting desks only a day or two before the candidates for Allen & Overy (A&O)’s leadership elections are announced – this column is truly hostage to fortune. Who will emerge to lead what has for many been the Magic Circle’s most effectively-led player will have significance spreading well beyond A&O’s City HQ. Still, a good track record cannot be counted on swinging re-election for senior partner Wim Dejonghe, thanks to the firm’s marathon but unsuccessful merger attempt with O’Melveny & Myers. That deal had many supporters but also some entrenched opposition, not least a vocal group of City corporate partners. And even many who were sympathetic grew understandably uneasy at the length of time the deal dragged on. Consequently, this looks to be no rubber-stamping exercise for a second term, even if many believe Dejonghe will run again and stands a good chance of re-election. The open nature of the race was further underlined by the late-minute announcement from managing partner Andrew Ballheimer that he would not seek a second term.

Potential candidates are currently keeping their powder dry, but for months there has been talk that the popular and effective banking co-head Philip Bowden will stand as senior partner, representing a serious candidate with a huge constituency. Even a two-horse race is hard to call, but there has also been suggestion that infrastructure head David Lee could throw his hat in. And the managing partner role is expected to attract a wider field: projects head Gareth Price has been cited, another rock solid candidate, while litigation chief Karen Seward must be weighing her chances. Continue reading “If A&O’s new team can’t get a mandate, who can?”