Letter from… Hong Kong: Asia’s most-desired village can be tough on the locals but the mood of confidence is back

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”

The Last Word – Global London perspectives from inside the shark tank

The Last Word – Global London perspectives from inside the shark tank

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

Brexitproof

‘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”

It’ll take more than a float to make DWF the new DLA

It’ll take more than a float to make DWF the new DLA

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”

The future of law will need long-term investment

The future of law will need long-term investment

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”

Beyond barbarian: Kirkland signs PE’s most wanted

Beyond barbarian: Kirkland signs PE’s most wanted

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”

Deal View: ‘Tooling up’ – Activist funds edging into the mainstream of UK deal scene

Deal View: ‘Tooling up’ – Activist funds edging into the mainstream of UK deal scene

‘Most listed companies have run across activists by now or at least come close,’ says Andy Ryde, Slaughter and May’s head of corporate. Shareholder activism, once barely registering on UK shores, is becoming a fact of life for corporate counsel. Is the trend set to continue?

Allen & Overy (A&O) M&A partner Richard Browne certainly thinks so: ‘The stock market has been going strong over the last couple of years and it is harder for activists to gain traction because shareholders are seeing prices go up. There is likely to be an explosion in activist-driven deals when the market turns.’ Continue reading “Deal View: ‘Tooling up’ – Activist funds edging into the mainstream of UK deal scene”

Letter from… Frankfurt: Pillars of stone – finding the right mix is tough but global interest in Germany is growing

Letter from… Frankfurt: Pillars of stone – finding the right mix is tough but global interest in Germany is growing

Two documents outlining the strategies of international firms in Germany came to light between 2016 and 2017. ‘Agenda 2020’ by Latham & Watkins set the goal of becoming the top outfit in the country by its titular date. ‘Germany 2020’ by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, meanwhile, anticipated a reduction of the local partnership of more than 15% over the same time frame.

At first sight, the contrast appears to sum up the growing divide between advancing and retrenching forces in a legal market long torn between a confident wider economic outlook and disappointing returns on investment for global advisers. Continue reading “Letter from… Frankfurt: Pillars of stone – finding the right mix is tough but global interest in Germany is growing”

The Last Word: Opportunity knocks

The Last Word: Opportunity knocks

The deal market tailed off at the end of 2018 after a generally resilient year. Here we ask the City’s leading corporate players for their prognosis on 2019

Powder dry

‘2018 started with a bang, but overall it was a tale of two halves. With competition for assets pushing valuations to eye-watering levels, investor fatigue and a degree of scepticism around the value-creating potential of M&A also took a toll. Looking forward to 2019, many of the factors that supported activity last year remain relevant. These include global growth, strong balance sheets, affordable debt and plenty of dry PE powder. But it’s hard to see 2019 topping 2018. We don’t expect a major correction, but we do anticipate a dip.’
Bob Bishop, co-chair of corporate, DLA Piper Continue reading “The Last Word: Opportunity knocks”

The GC outlook: more for more and more to come

The GC outlook: more for more and more to come

As a long-term observer of the legal profession, I view the development of GCs with an oxymoronic mix of admiration and cynicism. Admiration because common claims about the dramatic improvements in the calibre and size of the talent pool in the in-house profession are that rarest of beasts: a received wisdom that turns out on inspection to be largely true. Cynicism because those strides are often mixed with unwillingness to tackle the ethical and practical implications that come with increased clout.

Neither does much commentary account for the complex, love-hate relationship between GCs and law firms or the powerful impact of the career incentives that in-house counsel face on the development of the legal industry. Continue reading “The GC outlook: more for more and more to come”

PRIME and the rise of the tick-box ‘solution’

PRIME and the rise of the tick-box ‘solution’

The sheepish evasion now emanating from the once-lauded social mobility project PRIME is an abject lesson in what ethically ails the modern profession. Flashy initiatives, heavily promoted and then… nothing. Because the truth is that large commercial law firms confronted with all manner of social dilemmas have developed an increasingly unhealthy reflex response of reaching for gestures to give the facsimile of action with at best minimal focus on tangible results.

As you can see in Thomas Alan’s piece this month, the lack of rigour and quantifiable results emerging from PRIME, the most celebrated response to a social affairs issue to ever emerge from the commercial UK profession, is an ominous sign for an industry that purports to be getting more progressive. Continue reading “PRIME and the rise of the tick-box ‘solution’”