Disputes Eye: Hunting krakens – As finance and Russian work slows veteran litigators look to key trends and opportunities

Disputes Eye: Hunting krakens – As finance and Russian work slows veteran litigators look to key trends and opportunities

As the torrent of post-financial crisis litigation continues to slow, litigators are increasingly wondering: ‘What next?’ Certainly, 2018 has so far been quieter than 2017 from a disputes perspective, across big-ticket and mid-level matters.

Canvassing industry veterans on the trends to watch, however, shows plenty of areas of opportunity litigators spy on the horizon. Perhaps the most talked-up area right now is the prospect of litigation linked to this year’s implementation of GDPR, the EU-wide regime updating data protection and privacy law. The complexity of the legislation, and potential fines of up to 4% of global turnover for companies that breach the new rules, unsurprisingly means many lawyers forecast plenty of compliance and enforcement-related work. Continue reading “Disputes Eye: Hunting krakens – As finance and Russian work slows veteran litigators look to key trends and opportunities”

High (street) stakes as Gaucho collapses into administration and House of Fraser saga takes yet another twist

High (street) stakes as Gaucho collapses into administration and House of Fraser saga takes yet another twist

‘There’s going to be a lot of distress on the high street,’ Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Adam Plainer told Legal Business last autumn in an extended assessment of the City restructuring outlook. Given that insolvency lawyers have been confidently – and wrongly – predicting a flood of work since the banking crisis, such claims generally attract some scepticism. Yet the forces battering the high street did indeed in 2018 send a string of familiar names to the corporate vultures.

This summer’s collapse of Gaucho Group, the owner of premium Argentinian steak purveyors Gaucho and Cau, became only the latest casualty, amid a malaise that has seen dining and retail stalwarts struggle with shifting consumer behaviour and rising overheads. Continue reading “High (street) stakes as Gaucho collapses into administration and House of Fraser saga takes yet another twist”

Letter from… Moscow: Apocalypse now beckons as sanctions and turmoil batter foreign lawyers in Russia

Letter from… Moscow: Apocalypse now beckons as sanctions and turmoil batter foreign lawyers in Russia

Remember the days when Russia was the El Dorado of the Western legal elite? Potent New York outfits like Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom forged hugely lucrative businesses catering to Russian clients, while oligarchs and their top-dollar disputes were regulars in London’s commercial courts.

Just half a decade on and those days seem a distant memory. Chat informally with local partners and, once you get past the party line about it not being so bad, it is clear they are spending increasing chunks of their working lives merely trying to stay in the game. Continue reading “Letter from… Moscow: Apocalypse now beckons as sanctions and turmoil batter foreign lawyers in Russia”

The Last Word: One way or another

The Last Word: One way or another

From retaining talent to going public, LB100 leaders give their take on how to survive in an age of disruption

Go big

‘The markets are pretty buoyant in terms of legal services despite all the economic and political disruption out there. It was a particularly good year if you are global and full service. Anecdotally, I talk to lots of managing partners and the firms that have had a harder time I tend to think of as being quite niche or quite local to a particular country or market. The broader you can be geographically and from a service point of view, the better you’ve done.’
Simon Levine, global co-chief executive and managing partner, DLA Piper Continue reading “The Last Word: One way or another”

Law firm IPOs still don’t make much sense (but soon could)

Law firm IPOs still don’t make much sense (but soon could)

‘Who would possibly invest in a law firm?’ asks one leader this month, reflecting a common view. Yet the current vogue for floating law firms suggests momentum is indeed building, more than a decade after the introduction of the Legal Services Act. In recent weeks, DWF has turned heads with talk of a £1bn float this year. While the price – not officially attributed to the firm – looks fanciful, even a standard £400m-£600m valuation would be by some way the largest legal float yet seen. The last 12 months have seen a series of offerings, with Knights in June raising £50m and others recently braving the market, including Rosenblatt, Gordon Dadds and Keystone Law. And while larger commercial law firms publicly play down the prospects of raising outside capital, there is no doubt it is now getting more active consideration.

Yet for institutional lawyers, the basic tension in attracting outside shareholders remains. Large law firms generate plenty of capital and have the advantage of an owner/manager structure that closely aligns to the business’ needs and interests. It has never been that clear how the very different incentives of outside investors can be aligned with partners, beyond giving a payout to older partners, a poor outcome for the business as a going concern. Law firms are built on ‘elevator assets’, partners bred to expect huge autonomy make a lousy bet for outside shareholders. Continue reading “Law firm IPOs still don’t make much sense (but soon could)”

The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility

The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility

Through much of 2018 the talk has been that major City firms have been extraordinarily busy. GDPR, a rebound in transactional activity as deals put on hold by Brexit are pushed through, a robust showing from the global economy…

And this has translated into… not that much. London’s Big Four Magic Circle firms have packed in closely this year, with revenues up between 4% and 6%. True, in contrast to 2016/17, when currency movements flattered subdued underlying results, this year they have performed modestly better than the headline numbers suggest. But for those whose memories stretch to the 1990s through to 2008, when ‘really busy’ meant routinely sticking 10% to 15% like-for-like on the top line, this remains a very different environment. Continue reading “The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility”

A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline

A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline

In the summer of 2017 the world’s top law firms were looking at their next financial year with scant optimism given a turbulent geopolitical backdrop and uncertain economic headwinds. As it turned out, driven by a robust global economy, bullish investors and a re-born enthusiasm for cross-border transactions, the 2017/18 season proved kinder than forecast, equating to one of the stronger years seen by the Global 100 since the banking crisis recast the industry.

Assisted by consolidation, the 100 drove their collective top line up $6bn to reach $104.4bn. US-centric firms heavy on marquee transactions and private capital made the best showing – it was a relatively subdued 12 months in the vast US disputes market, hitting firms overly exposed to it. Continue reading “A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline”

Disputes Eye: An English court in Paris – another warning shot

Disputes Eye: An English court in Paris – another warning shot

There is a certain irony to be found in France’s enthusiastic uptake of English courts just as the UK detaches itself from the EU, an irony accompanied by a realistic fear of weakening the English judiciary.

Of course, the introduction of an English-language common law commercial court in Paris is nothing new for the continent, with similar proposals already taking form in Belgium and Germany. However, the Parisians have recently upped their marketing drive, announcing a flat court fee of €100 to contest the Rolls Building’s less-than-competitive entry price of up to £10,000. Continue reading “Disputes Eye: An English court in Paris – another warning shot”

The Last Word: The Big Long

The Last Word: The Big Long

From Trump and Brexit to debt and tech, we ask Global 100 leaders for their assessment of a turbulent 12 months

Trouble ahead

‘Confidence is pretty high, but there are some significant challenges ahead. The growth of tech is going to have a transformational impact, which is going to increase in velocity over the next year or two. At some point we are due for a recession. It is going to happen soon and Trump’s trade war could provoke it.’
Peter Martyr, global chief executive, Norton Rose Fulbright Continue reading “The Last Word: The Big Long”

Growing weary of snake oil dressed as commentary

Growing weary of snake oil dressed as commentary

This may be an issue dominated by all things Millennial, but I am past that, so the column that follows is likely the result of age-induced cynicism. But even by the standards of the legal industry, I find myself increasingly weary of what passes for industry commentary these days.

If an alien beamed down to earth and judged the profession through the lens of what the consultancy and the ‘thought leadership’ industries said about it, what would be the lessons they would take? The law is staffed by incompetent managers. Lawyers are uninterested in technology. General counsel (GCs) are the sole drivers of innovation and progress in the profession. The Big Four accountants are tearing through law. The legal industry faces an imminent structural collapse. I could go on and the purveyors of this certainly do. Continue reading “Growing weary of snake oil dressed as commentary”