‘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”

The Last Word: India

The Last Word: India

With a slowing economy and the political landscape unsettled, we ask leading international partners with noted Indian practices for their prognosis on the country and whether tougher times will shake up the local legal market

Policy paralysis

‘It is the understatement of the year to say that India has been having problems.

At the beginning of the year there was policy paralysis; there were taxation problems which caused a negative reaction and the budget wasn’t well received. The growth rate is slowing down and inflation Continue reading “The Last Word: India”

The air of unreality – can the big deal deliver for Ashurst?

The air of unreality – can the big deal deliver for Ashurst?

‘Historically, what killed Ashurst’s mergers has been apathy. Latham, Fried Frank, Clifford Chance – people were apathetic.’ So recalls one former veteran of the City firm.

As Legal Business goes to press Ashurst is finally about to vote on a transformative merger with its Australian partner. But even two years since the firm agreed a formal alliance with big six Australian outfit Blake Dawson, the idea of Ashurst going through with the tie-up still seems odd, unreal even, though this timeframe was always set out and the Australian practice immediately took the name of its City suitor.
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If the mid-tier’s days are numbered why do they keep doing so well?

If the mid-tier’s days are numbered why do they keep doing so well?

We’ve had five years of unforgiving conditions for law firms, everyone agrees. And in many respects that squeeze has had predictable results on the upper echelons and lower half of the LB100. But this year it’s the mid-tier which has had the most interesting 12 months. This group should by rights and conventional wisdom be on its knees, yet judged on 2012/13 results they aren’t. Looking at organic growth, plenty of firms in the 26-50 range out-shone larger rivals and many of the stand-out performances this year – among them Mishcon de Reya, Holman Fenwick Willan, Macfarlanes and RPC – hail from this segment. Neither is this a one-year deal – there are plenty of firms in this weight class that have maintained a robust five-year growth track, powered by strong niches in areas like private client, TMT and insurance and a general affinity for contentious work.

It is a reminder that there is nothing inherently wrong with a domestic or mid-market focus. It is just one model with its own strengths and weaknesses. Executed with a genuine feel for those strengths it delivers not just well but sometimes spectacularly.

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The age of turbulence has only just begun for the UK’s top 100 firms

The age of turbulence has only just begun for the UK’s top 100 firms

Respectable, yes, but 2012/13 was a tough year, even by the post-Lehman standards law firm leaders have become accustomed to. While a frantic run of consolidation and international expansion pushed revenue up 8% to £19.1bn, like-for-like growth was far more subdued.

On all objective measures of productivity and profitability, there were further slides, even before accounting for inflation. Back-of-the envelope calculations indicate that the UK’s top 100 law firms are about 25-30% off their boom-time highs in real terms underlying profitability.

In trying to respond to that pressure there has been a genuine shift in gravity among the UK’s top 25 over the last half decade, with the group reborn in truly globalised form. When people used to talk about law being global, until recently they really meant six or so firms. Now it’s 20-plus. With SJ Berwin to join King & Wood Mallesons, and Ashurst this autumn to vote on full integration with its Australian partner, this group is to a considerable extent operating in a different space to the rest of the LB100. Average revenue in this group is just short of £600m, against £98m in the second quartile, while underlying profitability is nearly double that of the next 25. Continue reading “The age of turbulence has only just begun for the UK’s top 100 firms”