Paywars III – City elite caught between rock and hard place

Paywars III – City elite caught between rock and hard place

The news last month that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was to push through the highest real-terms pay rises by a major City firm for a decade is a significant moment for the London legal market.

The decision to hike its associate pay scale, raising its benchmark rate for newly-qualified solicitors from £85,000 to £100,000 is a bold and expensive step for the City giant. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest such a move, which will put Freshfields well ahead of its Magic Circle peers, comes at an annual cost in the region of £10m. Continue reading “Paywars III – City elite caught between rock and hard place”

The influx of BAME lawyers may yet be squandered

The influx of BAME lawyers may yet be squandered

The good news is that up close the reality turns out to be not as awful as the cynics have feared. After all, for years the profession has avoided a frontal discussion of its record on ethnic diversity, choosing to submerge the topic within the umbrella of diversity and inclusion even as law firms became more intent on selling their progressive credentials.

And in fairness, avoiding that debate has been as much about a general British reticence to tackle issues of race head on with commentators and the media often treading with excessive delicacy in such matters. Still, the end result has been little frank discussion, certainly compared to the increasingly forthright debate on the profession’s record on female representation and retention or tackling social mobility. Continue reading “The influx of BAME lawyers may yet be squandered”

Cross-selling to glory will only get the Big Four so far

Cross-selling to glory will only get the Big Four so far

This title is on the record as having doubts regarding the Big Four’s legal ambitions, at least judged against claims typically made by some outside observers. Readers will all know such assertions: that the group are more sophisticated, slicker and tech-savvy than law firms and set to disrupt law on a global scale.

But while the last 25 years has not yet seen them live up to such claims, the Big Four clearly have formidable assets, contacts and brands and have collectively stepped up their investment in the last three years. Continue reading “Cross-selling to glory will only get the Big Four so far”

Deal View: Despite that late start, Willkie underlines surprisingly forceful City buyout push with hire of GavDav

Deal View: Despite that late start, Willkie underlines surprisingly forceful City buyout push with hire of GavDav

Affectionately known in buyout circles as ‘GavDav’, the long-time duo of private equity specialists Gavin Gordon and David Arnold has finally landed at Willkie Farr & Gallagher from Kirkland & Ellis after months of speculation.

While Kirkland may play down its significance, it is nevertheless a rare and high-profile exit for the Chicago-bred juggernaut and a chance for Willkie – a firm whose progress in the City has been muted compared with many US peers given the quality of its US private equity practice – to finally get its brand on the radar in London. Continue reading “Deal View: Despite that late start, Willkie underlines surprisingly forceful City buyout push with hire of GavDav”

The Last Word: Elite forces

The Last Word: Elite forces

International focus

‘In 2017 we had a record performance. 2018 was a year of big investment to consolidate our development in Africa and the Middle East but we did it halfway through the year. We are going to continue and consolidate our strategy. A lot of attention and energy will be on the international development. Our strategy is still to become a leader in the Mediterranean area, Africa and the Middle East. For now we are optimistic but from the second half of 2018 we have seen a decrease of investment in M&A.’ Continue reading “The Last Word: Elite forces”

Being most things to most clients just isn’t sustainable

Being most things to most clients just isn’t sustainable

Years ago, in the immediate wake of the banking crisis, I wrote a column on the notion that top London law firms, having pursued consolidation and growth for the preceding quarter century, had fallen out of love with being big. The argument was that they were increasingly focused on segmentation – meaning tighter focus on their core markets – than consolidation. I have made duffer calls over the years, but in retrospect only one of those points, on losing faith with growth, was substantively borne out. The second observation about a more clearly-segmented legal industry emerging has largely not come to pass. Major London firms have consistently eschewed growth strategies with generally poor results. But no matter the structural pressures building on the legal industry, they have yet to get used to the idea of being more rigorously focused on core markets. Incremental chipping – ditching a bit of structured finance here, a little employment disputes there – is about as good as it got.

Yet there is an increasingly salient argument to be made that major law firms have two broad approaches that look sustainable if they wish to be major forces in high-end law. The first is to operate closer to the classic partner-driven model – a simplified regime based on low leverage, partner-heavy service, and being focused in a relatively small number of markets and geographies. This is a stance successfully applied by many of the more potent US-bred law firms expanding in Europe. Continue reading “Being most things to most clients just isn’t sustainable”

The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps

The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps

The name, the Mindful Business Charter, does not in itself inspire huge confidence but, judging the legal profession on its willingness to at least try to address stress and mental health pressures, the initiative still constitutes pretty much law’s quality-of-life cutting edge.

The venture, first put together last year by Pinsent Masons, Addleshaw Goddard and Barclays, was an attempt to draw up a charter setting out what clients and law firms should reasonably expect of individual lawyers. A kind of rules of engagement, if you will, for not running your people into the ground. Continue reading “The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps”

Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds new life

Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds new life

Sometimes in institutional terms, something has to die before something new can live. The good news for Ashurst, as chronicled in this month’s cover feature, is that the City player is showing vivid signs of renewed life, with the firm set to post by far its best performance after a decade that has been plain bad. After the low points in late 2016 and early 2017, level-headed people were asking how long this could continue before decline became outright calamity.

The obvious caveat – and it is a substantial one – is that this has come largely by building on the ruins of what Ashurst was: a storied, corporate-driven City player with enviable history and a cohesive culture. What has emerged as the old edifice progressively crumbled is unrecognisable against Ashurst circa 2009. Thanks to its controversial merger with Blake Dawson, the shape and practice mix of the business has radically changed. Its once-vaunted private equity team has been battered down to functional coverage across Europe – the final blow to any borderline claim to first-division status being Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s five-partner Paris raid two years ago. And most of the big-name corporate figures have left over the years or retired – most recently Robert Ogilvy Watson and Simon Beddow – leaving a core corporate practice generating around 20% of its income; on paper, you would expect a firm of this heritage to be doing over 30%. Continue reading “Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds new life”

The Last Word – Best foot forward

The Last Word – Best foot forward

As bellwether Forsters opens the 2018/19 financial reporting season in the UK announcing steady revenue growth, we ask law firm leaders for a progress report

A decent year

‘We don’t have an enormous exposure to M&A. It makes up about 10% of our business, but the sense is people are getting used to the new normal. No one really knows what is going on with Brexit, but they’re just getting on with it and there are deals out there. I dislike the phrase cautious optimism, but it’s been a decent year. The challenge for firms will be finding active clients; we have been looking further afield than we would have done years ago.’

Paul Roberts, managing partner, Forsters Continue reading “The Last Word – Best foot forward”

Lucrative, dependable business-as-usual

Lucrative, dependable business-as-usual

The fourth, and largest, Disputes Yearbook returns to find the contentious legal scene much as we left it in 2018. For lawyers offering high-end and upper-midmarket dispute services that remains a good thing, even if there have been busier years post-Lehman. The licence to print money from banking crisis-related work and Russia-inflected conflicts has been revoked for several years now. But the disputes market in the City and across Europe has evolved into far too large and bountiful an ecosystem to be much impacted by such trifles. Arbitration continues to boom, commercial litigation remains solid and robust levels of regulation and enforcement at a global level are producing rich levels of follow-on work.

Continue reading “Lucrative, dependable business-as-usual”