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?”

Letter from… Brussels: Brexit convulsions prove no problem for Brussels hands as the age of tough antitrust enforcement proves a boon

Letter from… Brussels: Brexit convulsions prove no problem for Brussels hands as the age of tough antitrust enforcement proves a boon

In mid-October, when Legal Business decided it would dedicate this column to analysing the Belgian legal market, there was still the outside chance that it would appear in our first post-Brexit issue. By the time the piece was written a few days later, the UK Government had conceded defeat on its pledge to take the country out of the EU by the end of the month, triggering yet another delay to the process.

Not that the Brussels legal elite was surprised. Located in offices a few metres from the rooms where the Brexit negotiations have dragged on for almost three years, local counsel have had more than enough time to prepare for possible outcomes – deal? No deal? No Brexit? ‘After the referendum people were concerned about what would happen, but things have smoothed down,’ notes Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer local head Vincent Macq. ‘I don’t think there is any firm that sees it as a concern now.’ Continue reading “Letter from… Brussels: Brexit convulsions prove no problem for Brussels hands as the age of tough antitrust enforcement proves a boon”

Deal View: Freshfields silences critics with four-piece Cleary team but can it keep up the pressure on Wall St?

Deal View: Freshfields silences critics with four-piece Cleary team but can it keep up the pressure on Wall St?

‘Supercharging it’ and ‘pretty wild’ are not superlatives usually cropping up on your average conference call with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. If the conversation with Ethan Klingsberg (pictured), the Wall Street M&A star that led a four-partner team exit from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, was not very Freshfields, Edward Braham’s unrestrained enthusiasm for the hires when the news broke in October was similarly striking for the unfailingly understated senior partner. Reinforcing how much Freshfields had riding on this, Braham was in New York personally supervising the move upon announcement.

Even critics of Freshfields’ slow-and-steady US strategy are applauding the Cleary haul – the prominent M&A veteran Klingsberg, Meredith Kotler, Pamela Marcogliese and Paul Tiger – as the kind of daring statement that has been previously missing. ‘I admire them for having a go,’ admits one ex-partner, now at a US firm, expressing the consensus view. Continue reading “Deal View: Freshfields silences critics with four-piece Cleary team but can it keep up the pressure on Wall St?”

The Last Word: The client view

The Last Word: The client view

Interviewed for our annual in-house lawyer survey, leading GCs give their take on risk management, becoming business advisers and collaboration

Agile minds

‘Digital technology is something that is upon us. A lot of law firms and in-house departments will start thinking about how we harness the power of AI or technology to help us and not feel threatened by it. How do we make life simpler and not do the mundane? It’s about a mindset of being agile – the world is always changing, last year everyone has seen how rapidly change has come upon us, political and economic. So how do you equip yourself to embrace the good things about change?’ Continue reading “The Last Word: The client view”

Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?

Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?

For a pundit often claimed to be dismissive of the PR community, the subject of this leader may surprise. The reputation was never that accurate – I’ve always said skilled comms professionals are an asset to major law firms – but let’s put that to one side for now. The topic is something I’ve been noticing for some time: the slow decline of the PR professional as consigliere to law firm leaders. While the breed was never plentiful, it wasn’t that long ago that there was a sizeable group of battle-hardened comms hands that had judgement, integrity, long contact lists and who were effective as support and sources of information to managing partners. Plenty had worked outside the legal industry – indeed, they were usually more adept if they had in their junior years – but they had built strong knowledge of the dynamics of the profession and the realities of working for partnerships. They could make things happen and tell partners what they didn’t want to hear.

At their best they were a useful bridge to the outside world and there to help the firm push the message outwards, ever outwards, be that to clients, potential clients, or the wider industry. The best were also facilitators, focused on hooking up management and a Praetorian guard of headline-friendly partners with the better, relevant journalists and helping relationships flourish. Continue reading “Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?”

New Law needs a new dictionary to get that promised break through

New Law needs a new dictionary to get that promised break through

For more than a decade now technology and innovation jargon has been pushing its way inelegantly into the legal sphere. But with what result? Certainly, it has led to industrial levels of hype as cloying Silicon Valley-speak took hold in even the most inhospitable arenas. But more to the point for the development of the industry is the endemic confusion it has sown. Without re-treading this month’s cover feature on the substance of law firms’ New Law divisions, it is clear that the industry struggles enormously to articulate these services, both at conventional law firms and pure-play providers.

This explains the widespread confusion in the minds of general counsel about what is on offer and how it differs from Old Law. ‘Platforms’, ‘solutions’, ‘suites’ and an avalanche of weird brand names are present, but as to explaining the products on offer, it is just not cutting through. Continue reading “New Law needs a new dictionary to get that promised break through”

Dynamic forces – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils new approach

Dynamic forces – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils new approach

Late last month we published the first Legal 500 UK guide since I took over as editor. While changing something the size of the UK guide is going to take time (for context we include some 1,300 UK and US firms across more than 10,000 individual rankings) readers will have already noticed some improvements.

The legal industry has never had a reputation for being the fastest-moving sector, and the same criticism has at times been levelled against the analysts that assess the profession. As a research business we always start with the quantitative data and tangible evidence as the basis of our research – this means there will inevitably be some time lag between what we are ranking firms on and what is happening within their practice right now. Continue reading “Dynamic forces – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils new approach”

Letter from… Sydney: After the churn of the foreign influx, Australian legal elite look primed for their golden age

Letter from… Sydney: After the churn of the foreign influx, Australian legal elite look primed for their golden age

Some speak of the dawn of a ‘golden age’ for the market; others of a sugar rush for the country’s top players; while a third group warns of more challenging times to come. Whichever way you look at it, the feeling is that a new era has begun for Australia’s legal industry.

While relatively unscathed following the global financial crisis a decade ago, the country’s top banks found themselves at the centre of unprecedented scrutiny last year off the back of an inquiry by the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Launched in 2017 after years of political pressure to investigate misconduct in the financial sector, the commission’s reports had by February 2019 led to several serious allegations against major institutions, including charging fees for no service and continuing to bill people who had died. Continue reading “Letter from… Sydney: After the churn of the foreign influx, Australian legal elite look primed for their golden age”