A number of contacts have been telling me of late that Legal Business is gaining a reputation for being ultra-bearish on the Magic Circle. So entrenched is this view becoming that one Freshfields partner has apparently taken to claiming to colleagues that LB is talking down the Magic Circle in favour of US players because recruiters tell us to.
Once, not long ago, considerations of ethics were simple for law firms, if they bothered thinking about them at all. If what they were advising on was legal, however morally questionable, it was all good. Professional ethics? You didn’t need to worry – they were lawyers.
Those halcyon days are passing. Consider the convulsions in the profession regarding non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and their rampant use covering up harassment, a debate that has simmered for a year now. This topic skewers the profession on two fronts – NDAs have not only been used by law firms as a means of concealing poor behaviour by partners towards staff but they drew up the gagging agreements used by business at large. Continue reading “Age of just-about-OK ethics has passed”
I used to believe the UK legal profession was more imaginative than it got credit for – now I find with an increasingly jaded eye what fresh thinking there is has become stretched ludicrously thin. The vast majority of technology and new models are deployed to make the existing law firm a little more efficient to defensively preserve partner profits.
Despite the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opting in October not to pursue its much-publicised privilege appeal against ENRC any further, it is taking an increasingly hard-line approach in other ways.
Notably, the agency has come under scrutiny for its heavy-handed use of section 2 notices, an order compelling any individual or business to submit evidence or information. Failing to provide what the SFO wants can be punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Continue reading “Disputes Eye: ‘Draconian’ measures as SFO tackles privilege via the back door”
Deal View: Herbert Smith Freehills’ corporate team – credibility and polish only get you so far up the table
‘It’s like the rivalry between Fulham and Chelsea,’ notes one former Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) partner of his old club’s oft-cited tension between corporate and disputes. ‘Fulham fans think of Chelsea as one of its biggest rivals. Chelsea fans think of Fulham as that nice team down the road.’
No prizes for guessing that it is corporate that represents the plucky underdog in this reading. At a glance, such a comparison seems uncharitable. HSF’s corporate team is ranked in The Legal 500’s second tier for premium M&A deals, alongside Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance; most peers still regard its City corporate team as the best outside the Magic Circle. The legacy Herbert Smith also has a history stretching back to the 19th century as one of London’s prominent corporate solicitors, long before its embryonic disputes team invented the modern City model of running litigation as a substantive business line in the 1970s. Continue reading “Deal View: Herbert Smith Freehills’ corporate team – credibility and polish only get you so far up the table”
Letter from… Shanghai: Despite high hopes, it turns out there is no such thing as a free trade lunch
‘The thing about China is there have always been those who think the bubble is going to burst and the die-hard optimists on the other side,’ says Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW) Shanghai head Nick Poynder. Indeed, though the second group (to which Poynder belongs) has lately been the noisiest. Not that optimists lack evidence for their confidence. With over 100 Chinese companies in the Fortune Global 500 hungry for overseas expansion, the assets of Asian banks surging since the banking crisis and an economy still growing more than twice as fast as the US, the market is impossible to ignore. Says Osborne Clarke (OC)’s Steve Yu: ‘[International firms] have to be there because their clients are there.’
As part of our autumn tech special, we asked partners, innovation heads and CIOs to give a pragmatic take on the state of law firm tech
Just do it
‘In the next year or two, people will stop talking about AI and just use it. AI will just be embedded in the way firms work – like computers or emails. I don’t think in the long term we’ll have the situation where AI alone gives some firms a sustainable competitive advantage over others.’
Kevin Harris, director of IT, Taylor Wessing Continue reading “The Last Word: The hard path to enlightenment”
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”
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”
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”