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 The licence to print money from banking crisis-related work and Russia-inflected conflicts has been revoked for several years now.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.
We have at LB Towers something of a reputation for being sceptical of the claims to fresh thinking surrounding much of New Law Land. One exception, though, has been Axiom, the pioneering outfit that pushed lawyering into the mainstream.
Sure, Axiom’s message could be obscured by strangulated attempts to ape Silicon Valley speak, an odd trait given the straight-talking style of founder Mark Harris. But its growth rates and reputation for quality never made you doubt that the outfit was a cut well above most New Law lightweights. Continue reading “Innovation needs champions as Axiom doubts emerge”
Having recently shared a few drinks with one of the most talked-up youngish corporate lawyers in the City, the question came up about mid-way through as to what age they made partner. The answer: 36! And there lies much of what ails major law firms, though older partners continue to float around effecting increasingly unconvincing attitudes of surprise.
Consider a few issues for a moment. The haemorrhaging of female talent at mid-level from private practice. The disengagement of associates under 30 with major law firms. The loss of talented lawyers to US law firms. Client dissatisfaction with lack of partner time. Inter-generational tension in law firms. All of these issues have a common theme: the sustained yet unsustainable practice of major law firms pushing partnership decisions until far too late. And let’s be frank: routinely delaying partnership decisions until lawyers hit their mid-thirties is ludicrous. Continue reading “The big 30 – Make ‘em partner or you’ll lose ‘em”
There was never any doubt that 2018 would prove another good year for US law firms in London coming off what has been a great decade for the breed. But it is only when you start to pull together the numbers that you realise how fast the City legal market is shifting in favour of American entrants. Legal Business has a reputation for being bullish on US firms in London. These numbers indicate that we haven’t been bullish enough. There are now more than 7,000 lawyers working in the London offices of the top 50 largest practices in London. Even stripping out the impact of including the legacy Berwin Leighton Paisner’s City practice, that’s an annual increase of 7%, a startling growth rate and one that is actually accelerating even as many expected investment in London to slow in the face of the UK’s looming exit from the EU.
The cliché says that you have to start somewhere and so Goodwin Procter’s London branch did in 2011 with a solitary partner at a desk with a phone. While it arrived late to the City – fellow Boston outfit Ropes & Gray beat it by a couple of years and has enjoyed a very strong run since – now it is Goodwin’s turn.
City revenue grew 58% in 2018, more than three times the pace of the firm globally, hitting $66.8m in the same year it launched a European life sciences practice and amid a punchy 16% hike in global turnover to $1.2bn. Profit per equity partner saw a 14% spike to $2.46m and revenue per lawyer grew 10% to $1.25m, showing the firm has performed to every metric of success both in the City and in its other offices in Boston, New York and San Francisco. Continue reading “Deal View: Goodwin’s City practice goes beyond the clichés with 58% revenue growth”
Letter from… Hong Kong: Asia’s most-desired village can be tough on the locals but the mood of confidence is back
Hong Kong, notes Mayer Brown Asia chair Duncan Abate, is like a village: ‘If you are good, you can do really well, if you are not, everyone knows it.’
A village – it is fair to add – that has had more than its share of reverses in recent years. Much lauded up until the early 2010s as the gateway to China and the effective legal and finance capital for the Asia region, in the second half of the decade it has been dogged by protectionism, cut-throat pricing and an excess of lawyers. Continue reading “Letter from… Hong Kong: Asia’s most-desired village can be tough on the locals but the mood of confidence is back”
To mark the launch of our 2019 Global London report, we ask senior management at the leading US firms in London for a progress update
‘Milbank does not just have stellar transactional practices: a very significant component of the London office are countercyclical businesses such as restructuring and litigation. They are among the strongest performers. At some point the economy may deteriorate, but we have positioned ourselves to thrive in good and bad conditions.’
Julian Stait, London co-managing partner, Milbank Continue reading “The Last Word – Global London perspectives from inside the shark tank”
Regular readers will have to forgive two columns in one issue on capitalising law firms but the day I write this piece DWF has finally set out its stall for that much-touted public float. As can be gleaned from last autumn’s cover feature on law firm IPOs, there is a considerable scepticism regarding the rhetoric surrounding DWF’s planned float, which, if it goes ahead, would be on the main market.
Despite initial talk of £1bn valuations, even the more modest £400m-£600m range some were circulating is seen as a huge stretch by a number of the advisers that have worked in this area. Continue reading “It’ll take more than a float to make DWF the new DLA”
A little over five years ago Legal Business produced a cover feature dubbed ‘How to improve a law firm in 17 easy steps’. The piece – intended as a series of practical proposals to improve the working of law firms – has aged as well as anything printed in these pages.
And while point one – on overhauling lockstep partnerships for the age of global law – has been borne out, it is the second proposal, to phase out full profit distribution models, that is more pressing to the profession. Problems with lockstep are a peculiar challenge for London’s elite. In contrast, the historic model that has prevailed in legal partnerships of distributing the near-entirety of profits to partners annually speaks to an entire industry in danger of tipping itself over a cliff. Continue reading “The future of law will need long-term investment”
If the news in late 2017 that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity veteran David Higgins was joining Kirkland & Ellis was an insult to his Magic Circle firm, the announcement barely into 2019 that Kirkland was following up with his colleague Adrian Maguire looks like grievous injury.
The record-breaking transfer of Higgins was a symbolic reverse and a significant demonstration of Kirkland’s determination to push into mainstream sponsor work in Europe. Yet it was not entirely unexpected – there had been indications that Higgins was becoming disenchanted due to issues with Freshfields’ finance practice and a lack of a more meaningful leadership role. Where he went was more surprising than the matter of his departure. Continue reading “Beyond barbarian: Kirkland signs PE’s most wanted”