Structural or cyclical change in the law? 2014 should answer the big question

Structural or cyclical change in the law? 2014 should answer the big question

It’s been obvious that something fundamental happened to the world economy during 2008, ushering in the worst relative trading conditions since the 1930s. It is, likewise, demonstrable that this shift has had a material impact on the legal profession in terms of reduced growth prospects, changing corporate buying habits and pressure on the conventional model of law.

The point that has yet to be resolved – and which has huge significance to the western legal industry – is whether that change represents a permanent structural shift underwritten by technology and the rise of non-law firm providers, or a severe cyclical depression from which the profession will in time recover. Continue reading “Structural or cyclical change in the law? 2014 should answer the big question”

So what’s wrong with BigLaw anyway?

So what’s wrong with BigLaw anyway?

The term BigLaw has been around in the US for a while but in recent years this catch-all tag for corporate lawyering in the world’s biggest law market has taken on a decidedly pejorative tone. From the pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to prominent blogs and comments by industry observers, a popular view has taken hold to the effect that the US legal industry – in particular in New York – is a fundamentally broken model in a profession facing terminal decline.

Ultimately, this prognosis of doom remains unsatisfying for two reasons. Firstly, some of this analysis is based on attempts to bolt on the narrative of the supposedly humbled Wall Street banks on to Wall Street law firms. For all the parallels between banks and law firms, as much divides as unites them. Law still doesn’t attract risk-takers; law firms don’t need anything like the capital of modern investment banks and they have little ability to create the short-term illusion of profitability that played havoc in the securities industry post-2007. Continue reading “So what’s wrong with BigLaw anyway?”

The rising stars in-house – bluechip legal teams are bursting with talent

The rising stars in-house – bluechip legal teams are bursting with talent

The first Legal Business edition of the year coincides with a major project for us: the second edition of our popular GC Power List, which launched last year. The idea is straightforward: we research in-house and private practice to identify a list of outstanding individuals who demonstrate the influence and rising clout that has come to define the modern in-house profession.

While the first report focused on senior GCs, for the second edition we have taken on the challenge of addressing the best performers coming into their own during their 30s and early 40s – the GCs of tomorrow.

Continue reading “The rising stars in-house – bluechip legal teams are bursting with talent”

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:

Continue reading “DISSENT: Where do you want your firm to be in 2020?”

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.

Continue reading “The New New Normal – a changing market beckons for 2014”

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.

Continue reading “The City elite is ready to try something new – are clients keeping up?”

‘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.

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

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”