DISSENT: Where do you want your firm to be in 2020?

DISSENT: Where do you want your firm to be in 2020?

Adam Smith, Esq’s Bruce MacEwen argues that short-termism and a lack of stewardship has come to define the modern law firm

To judge from the way law firms behave – it’s helpfully instructive to ignore what they say – the answer to the rhetorical question of the above headline is: ‘Who gives a fig?’

Consider the following facts and ask yourself what philosophy of management underlies and ties all law firms together:

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The New New Normal – a changing market beckons for 2014

The New New Normal – a changing market beckons for 2014

The last three years have drawn to a close heralding another 12 months much like those that went before: depressing. The eurozone flirting with break-up, fiscal woes holding back Western economies and a subdued legal market. Check, check and check.

But drawing to the end of 2013, commercial lawyers are facing an outlook that is, in highly relative terms, not half bad. The word from senior City partners has been generally upbeat since the summer. The first half financial results have, if anything, exceeded those raised expectations. We are looking at the best set of like-for-like financial results seen for five years from major UK law firms. Even allowing for the weak comparison point of H1 2012/13, early numbers are robust across a wide range of firms.

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The City elite is ready to try something new – are clients keeping up?

The City elite is ready to try something new – are clients keeping up?

Eighteen months ago I met the general counsel (GC) of a FTSE 250 company to listen to his plans to parcel up parts of his deals, based on complexity, and hand each chunk to a different panel adviser based on skillset, capability and cost.

Until very recently, this level of micro-management – and the prospect that law firms would no longer be handed a deal lock, stock and barrel – was not going down well. Not long after meeting this GC, I sat between two well-known managing partners at a dinner and listened to them assert matter-of-factly that this sort of tinkering round the edges would never become mainstream.

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‘Mishcon’ no more but a City player at last? Wragges needs a big deal and the old magic

‘Mishcon’ no more but a City player at last? Wragges needs a big deal and the old magic

‘Wragge & Co was the Mishcon of its day.’ That statement from a former veteran of the Midlands giant sums it up in many ways.

In the late 1990s Wragges wasn’t just the best law firm the English regions had bred, it was a firm that broke the rules. The mix of flair, quality lawyering and an ability to astutely break away from the herd had few if any direct comparisons at the time. Wragges had a recognition and respect in the City absent from most national and regional competitors. More than that, Wragges stood out from rivals and could quicken the professional pulse in a way that Mishcon de Reya does today.

That’s not to say that the intervening years have been a disaster. The 119-partner firm remains a perfectly respectable performer. But along the way too many strategic shuffles and an uncertain crack at the City has stolen Wragges’ mystique. The firm also arguably allowed its practice to become too diffuse and lacked clarity over which section of the market it was focusing on, to the detriment of its corporate practice. Wragges’ famed morale is now, well, just like the rest.

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DISSENT: The battle for talent and other phoney wars

DISSENT: The battle for talent and other phoney wars

A false ‘war for talent’ has seen law firms create their own staff shortages, argue Laura Empson and Louise Ashley.

Since McKinsey & Co first coined the term in 1997, the ‘war for talent’ has been the focus of a stream of conferences, media articles and consulting assignments. It has spawned a new human resources specialism – talent management – and with that has come concepts such as ‘competency frameworks’ and ‘succession planning’.

One of the most hotly fought fronts in the war for talent is graduate recruitment. Professional service firms, including law firms, accountancy practices, banks and consultancies, pride themselves on battling with other firms, competing aggressively for a very limited number of ‘the brightest and the best’ graduates. As one banker told us: ‘All the banks are in competition, gunning for that small pool of talent.’ Continue reading “DISSENT: The battle for talent and other phoney wars”

The Last Word: A year in review

The Last Word: A year in review

Aside from bad knitwear and excessive alcohol consumption, Christmas is a time for reflection as well as looking ahead. With this in mind, we asked some senior law firm figures for their thoughts. Rose-tinted spectacles are optional.

Striking the balance

‘Much of our focus this year has inevitably been on integration and on being instructed because of capabilities created as a result of our merger. We have done very well in both areas and the sheer number of so-called synergy mandates has been a real highlight. Against an improving but still uncertain economic backdrop in 2013, our financial performance has been satisfactory. Continue reading “The Last Word: A year in review”

Forget Dewey – in Wall Street star power is greater than ever

Forget Dewey – in Wall Street star power is greater than ever

I flew into Manhattan to The New Yorker chronicling the death of Big Law with a pacey dissection of the fall of Dewey & LeBoeuf. Three days later I flew out to The New York Times covering the fee bonanza for Wall Street lawyers generated by J.P. Morgan’s regulatory nightmare.

There you have it – Manhattan’s legal market remains as contradictory and seductive as ever. Eighteen months since Dewey collapsed, it’s not apparent that the world’s largest legal failure has had much impact at all. Certainly, there has been no discernible hard look in the mirror or serious questioning of the elevation of the star system that contributed – combined with a score of other failings – to Dewey’s final chapter.

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Comment: ‘2006 and all that – an oh-so-familiar mess at Linklaters

Comment: ‘2006 and all that – an oh-so-familiar mess at Linklaters

The most hackneyed cliché of the pundit is history repeating itself, a claim that rarely holds up upon closer examination. But with the recent departure of Linklaters’ private equity co-heads Ian Bagshaw and Richard Youle for White & Case, well, sometimes you just can’t escape the past.

Personality clashes, a mid-market practice not gelling with Linklaters’ M&A business, finance supposedly not supporting sponsor clients, prolonged rumours over exit talks, and, finally, a dramatic exit to a big spending US rival; yes, it’s 2006 all over again when Graham White and Raymond McKeeve quit for Kirkland & Ellis.

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Almost meeting minds – a select band of CIOs and MPs plot a big, big breakthrough

Almost meeting minds – a select band of CIOs and MPs plot a big, big breakthrough

During the original dot-com boom, there was a brief period – oh so brief – when legal technologists and managing partners were almost on the same page. With both camps dreaming of dramatic use of IT projects to revolutionise the legal business – the era of Blue Flag – there were big sums signed off, in many cases with poor results when it came to the hard grind of implementation. Dot-com boom turned to bust and IT professionals were once again from Venus and fee-earners from Mars.

Aside from Linklaters’ high-stakes investment in a platform from SAP during the 2000s, technology has shifted in recent years towards pragmatism and smaller initiatives. Mirroring the wider shift towards flexible tech, chief information officers (CIOs) are increasingly focusing on off-the-shelf tools that can be rapidly adapted at competitive costs. Continue reading “Almost meeting minds – a select band of CIOs and MPs plot a big, big breakthrough”