For good or ill, Kirkland is now redefining high-end law

For good or ill, Kirkland is now redefining high-end law

Though I’ve always known that soul-of-a-law-firm cover features are the biggest draw for our readers, the response to our Kirkland & Ellis epic in July has been striking. Not since ‘Branded’ two years ago exposed the state of King & Wood Mallesons’ European business has a piece in these pages provoked such an intense reaction. Our team did a good job but that also reflects the hold the K&E phenomenon has taken over the industry’s imagination. Having covered the law for a good number of years, I cannot think of a firm that has attracted such strong emotions split between appalled detractors and the growing band battered into submissive admiration.

The critics loathe the outfit in part for upending some accepted notions of how global law firms are supposed to excel. But most of the distaste springs from the potency of a challenge emerging from outside the profession’s established London and New York elites. Kirkland’s success, however, isn’t just about defying norms. In some areas, Kirkland took platitudes of focus, meritocracy and leadership and turned them into realities. Sometimes brutal realities but that’s reality for you. Continue reading “For good or ill, Kirkland is now redefining high-end law”

LB100: Smoke, turmoil and a tonne of cash

LB100: Smoke, turmoil and a tonne of cash

The latest financial year has not been a vintage period for those wishing the legal industry would fall into concise patterns. Glancing at the LB100, separating the winners and losers by breed is more difficult than at any time over the last 20 years.

But murky as the picture is, some broad outlines can still be discerned. The 2017/18 season was one of the best 12 months of trading since the banking crisis a decade ago reset the legal market. Continue reading “LB100: Smoke, turmoil and a tonne of cash”

A decade since Lehman the profession still mired in the New Normal

A decade since Lehman the profession still mired in the New Normal

Within days of this issue hitting desks, it will be ten years since Lehman Brothers’ collapse marked what swiftly became the great financial crisis. That event was only the clearest symptom of a disease that had been infecting the banking system for more than a year before Lehman filed for bankruptcy on 15 September 2008.

Yet the process unquestionably signalled changes that have reverberated through economies, politics, business and, yes, the legal profession ever since. By the summer of 2009 the UK profession had for the first time engaged in industrial-scale job cuts, axing more than 5,000 roles at top 100 UK firms alone. Through the lens of the LB100, the profession starkly divides into performance patterns pre and post-Lehman. During the long boom, London’s elite was utterly untouchable. Within the Circle they could falter and scrap for fleeting inter-club advantage. But as far as the rest of the industry was concerned, they were in a world of their own. The initial advances of major US law firms had by the mid-2000s been comprehensively repelled – what chance did mid-tier rivals have? Continue reading “A decade since Lehman the profession still mired in the New Normal”

Disputes Eye: Hunting krakens – As finance and Russian work slows veteran litigators look to key trends and opportunities

Disputes Eye: Hunting krakens – As finance and Russian work slows veteran litigators look to key trends and opportunities

As the torrent of post-financial crisis litigation continues to slow, litigators are increasingly wondering: ‘What next?’ Certainly, 2018 has so far been quieter than 2017 from a disputes perspective, across big-ticket and mid-level matters.

Canvassing industry veterans on the trends to watch, however, shows plenty of areas of opportunity litigators spy on the horizon. Perhaps the most talked-up area right now is the prospect of litigation linked to this year’s implementation of GDPR, the EU-wide regime updating data protection and privacy law. The complexity of the legislation, and potential fines of up to 4% of global turnover for companies that breach the new rules, unsurprisingly means many lawyers forecast plenty of compliance and enforcement-related work. Continue reading “Disputes Eye: Hunting krakens – As finance and Russian work slows veteran litigators look to key trends and opportunities”

High (street) stakes as Gaucho collapses into administration and House of Fraser saga takes yet another twist

High (street) stakes as Gaucho collapses into administration and House of Fraser saga takes yet another twist

‘There’s going to be a lot of distress on the high street,’ Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Adam Plainer told Legal Business last autumn in an extended assessment of the City restructuring outlook. Given that insolvency lawyers have been confidently – and wrongly – predicting a flood of work since the banking crisis, such claims generally attract some scepticism. Yet the forces battering the high street did indeed in 2018 send a string of familiar names to the corporate vultures.

This summer’s collapse of Gaucho Group, the owner of premium Argentinian steak purveyors Gaucho and Cau, became only the latest casualty, amid a malaise that has seen dining and retail stalwarts struggle with shifting consumer behaviour and rising overheads. Continue reading “High (street) stakes as Gaucho collapses into administration and House of Fraser saga takes yet another twist”

Letter from… Moscow: Apocalypse now beckons as sanctions and turmoil batter foreign lawyers in Russia

Letter from… Moscow: Apocalypse now beckons as sanctions and turmoil batter foreign lawyers in Russia

Remember the days when Russia was the El Dorado of the Western legal elite? Potent New York outfits like Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom forged hugely lucrative businesses catering to Russian clients, while oligarchs and their top-dollar disputes were regulars in London’s commercial courts.

Just half a decade on and those days seem a distant memory. Chat informally with local partners and, once you get past the party line about it not being so bad, it is clear they are spending increasing chunks of their working lives merely trying to stay in the game. Continue reading “Letter from… Moscow: Apocalypse now beckons as sanctions and turmoil batter foreign lawyers in Russia”

The Last Word: One way or another

The Last Word: One way or another

From retaining talent to going public, LB100 leaders give their take on how to survive in an age of disruption

Go big

‘The markets are pretty buoyant in terms of legal services despite all the economic and political disruption out there. It was a particularly good year if you are global and full service. Anecdotally, I talk to lots of managing partners and the firms that have had a harder time I tend to think of as being quite niche or quite local to a particular country or market. The broader you can be geographically and from a service point of view, the better you’ve done.’
Simon Levine, global co-chief executive and managing partner, DLA Piper Continue reading “The Last Word: One way or another”

Law firm IPOs still don’t make much sense (but soon could)

Law firm IPOs still don’t make much sense (but soon could)

‘Who would possibly invest in a law firm?’ asks one leader this month, reflecting a common view. Yet the current vogue for floating law firms suggests momentum is indeed building, more than a decade after the introduction of the Legal Services Act. In recent weeks, DWF has turned heads with talk of a £1bn float this year. While the price – not officially attributed to the firm – looks fanciful, even a standard £400m-£600m valuation would be by some way the largest legal float yet seen. The last 12 months have seen a series of offerings, with Knights in June raising £50m and others recently braving the market, including Rosenblatt, Gordon Dadds and Keystone Law. And while larger commercial law firms publicly play down the prospects of raising outside capital, there is no doubt it is now getting more active consideration.

Yet for institutional lawyers, the basic tension in attracting outside shareholders remains. Large law firms generate plenty of capital and have the advantage of an owner/manager structure that closely aligns to the business’ needs and interests. It has never been that clear how the very different incentives of outside investors can be aligned with partners, beyond giving a payout to older partners, a poor outcome for the business as a going concern. Law firms are built on ‘elevator assets’, partners bred to expect huge autonomy make a lousy bet for outside shareholders. Continue reading “Law firm IPOs still don’t make much sense (but soon could)”

The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility

The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility

Through much of 2018 the talk has been that major City firms have been extraordinarily busy. GDPR, a rebound in transactional activity as deals put on hold by Brexit are pushed through, a robust showing from the global economy…

And this has translated into… not that much. London’s Big Four Magic Circle firms have packed in closely this year, with revenues up between 4% and 6%. True, in contrast to 2016/17, when currency movements flattered subdued underlying results, this year they have performed modestly better than the headline numbers suggest. But for those whose memories stretch to the 1990s through to 2008, when ‘really busy’ meant routinely sticking 10% to 15% like-for-like on the top line, this remains a very different environment. Continue reading “The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility”

A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline

A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline

In the summer of 2017 the world’s top law firms were looking at their next financial year with scant optimism given a turbulent geopolitical backdrop and uncertain economic headwinds. As it turned out, driven by a robust global economy, bullish investors and a re-born enthusiasm for cross-border transactions, the 2017/18 season proved kinder than forecast, equating to one of the stronger years seen by the Global 100 since the banking crisis recast the industry.

Assisted by consolidation, the 100 drove their collective top line up $6bn to reach $104.4bn. US-centric firms heavy on marquee transactions and private capital made the best showing – it was a relatively subdued 12 months in the vast US disputes market, hitting firms overly exposed to it. Continue reading “A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline”