On occasion, we are asked to give our house view at partner conferences and the like. Undertaking one such gig last month for a top-50 UK law firm while the government unhelpfully melted down in the background, I put down some notes on the outline questions the law firm asked me to address before the conference. Obviously, I was not reading my notes in front of the audience in a two-way Q&A and did not stick to the script, but with a little scrubbing up and the identifying information removed, the notes seemed a decent compilation on the kind of topics that Team LB is frequently asked to opine on.
As 2018 draws to a close, an editor’s thoughts naturally turn to digging out stuff we’ve already done when they should be focusing on stuff we haven’t yet done for 2019. So with that proud tradition in mind, dear reader, below are ten defining pieces from the last 12 months that shone some light on this funny old game we call law.
We’ll now be taking a break from live blogging over the Christmas period but we’ll be returning early in 2019 for what promises to be another… eventful year in the legal profession. Nearly mentioned Brexit just then but I got away with it… Continue reading “Looking back on 2018 – The year in law through ten on-point pieces”
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 “Comment: PRIME and the rise of law’s tick-box diversity ‘solution’”
Letter from… Singapore: A warm welcome and slick offering keep Singapore ahead in the race to be Asia global hub
The view from Fort Canning Hill is telling. You stand next to an early 20th century lighthouse, a testament to Singapore’s early success as a maritime trade hub. It shut in 1958, as the skyscrapers vaulting up rendered it hardly visible from the sea – a port at the crossroads of India and China was becoming a major financial centre.
Today instead of the sea, the view is of dozens of buildings hosting international banks, insurers, manufacturers, tech companies… and of course, lawyers. A city-state of just five and a half million is home to almost 1,000 national and 150 international law firms, making it one of Asia’s two dominant global hubs alongside old rival Hong Kong. Continue reading “Letter from… Singapore: A warm welcome and slick offering keep Singapore ahead in the race to be Asia global hub”
A number of contacts have been telling me of late that Legal Business is gaining a reputation for being ultra-bearish on the Magic Circle. So entrenched is this view becoming that one Freshfields partner has apparently taken to claiming to colleagues that LB is talking down the Magic Circle in favour of US players because recruiters tell us to.
For the record, we have a church-and-state divide here and if any commercial partner wants to try to dictate our editorial line, I’d say: ‘Give it a try… and see what happens.’ But, more to the point, such comments misconstrue the basis on which we critique top City firms. London leaders have been a huge success story for corporate Britain – one that has failed to get the credit it was due in business circles. And, as a born Londoner, in as much as I get attached to law firms, there is an instinctive leaning towards wanting the local boys to do good. In short, we are not pointing out City leaders have faltered to revel in that failure. It is to make constructive arguments about what must be addressed if they are to renew themselves. We come not to bury the Magic Circle but to save it. Continue reading “Comment: We come not to bury the Magic Circle but to save it”
I used to believe the UK legal profession was more imaginative than it got credit for – now I find with an increasingly jaded eye what fresh thinking there is has become stretched ludicrously thin. The vast majority of technology and new models are deployed to make the existing law firm a little more efficient to defensively preserve partner profits.
On one level, you can salute the hard-headed focus on margin. On the another, there are increasingly ominous questions about what worship of margin above other considerations will do to the legal industry at a time of structural pressure. You do not have to be devotees of Peter Drucker or Clayton Christensen to believe that aspiring to run law firms on 50%-plus margins creates a huge amount of competitive space for new entrants to operate and forge potent beachheads. It seems highly debatable that the legal industry will over the next 10 to 20 years sustain large swathes of providers operating on such fat returns. Continue reading “Comment: The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled law’s market forces”
Once, not long ago, considerations of ethics were simple for law firms, if they bothered thinking about them at all. If what they were advising on was legal, however morally questionable, it was all good. Professional ethics? You didn’t need to worry – they were lawyers.
Those halcyon days are passing. Consider the convulsions in the profession regarding non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and their rampant use covering up harassment, a debate that has simmered for a year now. This topic skewers the profession on two fronts – NDAs have not only been used by law firms as a means of concealing poor behaviour by partners towards staff but they drew up the gagging agreements used by business at large. Continue reading “Comment: NDA mess shows age of just-about-OK legal ethics has passed”
Despite the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opting in October not to pursue its much-publicised privilege appeal against ENRC any further, it is taking an increasingly hard-line approach in other ways.
Notably, the agency has come under scrutiny for its heavy-handed use of section 2 notices, an order compelling any individual or business to submit evidence or information. Failing to provide what the SFO wants can be punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Continue reading “Disputes Eye: ‘Draconian’ measures as SFO tackles privilege via the back door”
Letter from… Shanghai: Despite high hopes, it turns out there is no such thing as a free trade lunch
‘The thing about China is there have always been those who think the bubble is going to burst and the die-hard optimists on the other side,’ says Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW) Shanghai head Nick Poynder. Indeed, though the second group (to which Poynder belongs) has lately been the noisiest. Not that optimists lack evidence for their confidence. With over 100 Chinese companies in the Fortune Global 500 hungry for overseas expansion, the assets of Asian banks surging since the banking crisis and an economy still growing more than twice as fast as the US, the market is impossible to ignore. Says Osborne Clarke (OC)’s Steve Yu: ‘[International firms] have to be there because their clients are there.’
Though I’ve always known that soul-of-a-law-firm cover features are the biggest draw for our readers, the response to our Kirkland & Ellis epic in July has been striking. Not since ‘Branded’ two years ago exposed the state of King & Wood Mallesons’ European business has a piece in these pages provoked such an intense reaction. Our team did a good job but that also reflects the hold the K&E phenomenon has taken over the industry’s imagination. Having covered the law for a good number of years, I cannot think of a firm that has attracted such strong emotions split between appalled detractors and the growing band battered into submissive admiration.
The critics loathe the outfit in part for upending some accepted notions of how global law firms are supposed to excel. But most of the distaste springs from the potency of a challenge emerging from outside the profession’s established London and New York elites. Kirkland’s success, however, isn’t just about defying norms. In some areas, Kirkland took platitudes of focus, meritocracy and leadership and turned them into realities. Sometimes brutal realities but that’s reality for you. Continue reading “Comment: For good or ill, Kirkland is now redefining high-end law”