Comment: Failings in Beckwith prosecution undermine #MeToo fight and muzzle regulator

Comment: Failings in Beckwith prosecution undermine #MeToo fight and muzzle regulator

The ink is barely dry on Friday’s High Court ruling that overturned the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s finding against ex-Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith and the shockwaves are starting to be felt around the legal industry.

In the unlikely event that the substance of the ruling has escaped anyone, the Queen’s Bench Division’s judgment reversed the SDT’s October 2019 findings that Beckwith’s drunken sexual activity with an intoxicated associate breached Principles 2 and 6 of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s code of conduct, reversed his £35,000 fine and quashed the £200,000 costs order.  Continue reading “Comment: Failings in Beckwith prosecution undermine #MeToo fight and muzzle regulator”

Comment: Last orders – The final reflections of a veteran legal pundit

Comment: Last orders – The final reflections of a veteran legal pundit

I’ve always suspected that, like politics, careers in journalism largely end in failure. Here is how mine ends. After 20 years covering the legal industry, it’s time to do something else. Given that length of time, I hope my four regular readers will forgive the introspection of my final Legal Business column.

I was an accidental legal journalist, just a business reporter who ended up covering law while looking for the next sector to cover in my restless twenties. Business journalists should want to cover a sector that is large, competitive, has smart people and that Britain excels at. Law certainly ticked all those boxes, not that you’d know it from the lack of attention it gets outside its own media. Continue reading “Comment: Last orders – The final reflections of a veteran legal pundit”

Comment: Litigators prepare as market enters phoney war but battle lines are yet to be drawn 

Comment: Litigators prepare as market enters phoney war but battle lines are yet to be drawn 

The received wisdom is that a downward trajectory in the economy results in an upward trajectory in contentious work as the environment becomes more acrimonious, and by extension more litigious. Of course, this is a simplistic take, but it does describe something that is approximately true.

But no downturn completely resembles the one before it. Though an overused description generally, even a cursory glance at the state of the economy shows the chaos wrought by the Covid-19 lockdown is truly unprecedented – the 20.4% contraction in in the economy during the second quarter of 2020 was the largest since records began.  Continue reading “Comment: Litigators prepare as market enters phoney war but battle lines are yet to be drawn “

The totally scientific secrets of leadership – What I learnt from years of drinking with managing partners

The totally scientific secrets of leadership – What I learnt from years of drinking with managing partners

The upheavals of 2020 have given me more time than normal to reflect on something that I’ve spent a good deal of my career engaging with: leadership in major law firms. But while leadership in law is widely accepted as crucial to the success of major institutions, it is a subject that still attracts much confusion and lazy platitudes. So, for what it’s worth, I’ve put down some reflections drawn from two decades of gossiping, arguing, drinking and debating with the c-suites of large law firms. The following are my personal observations and assertions about the state and nature of leadership in this game we call law.

Leadership at the crossroads As Legal Business has remarked before, 2010 was a curate’s egg for leadership in large City law firms. While operational management continued to improve after the battle testing of the banking crisis, strategic leadership became increasingly uncertain when it came to making the big calls. This happened as the model that delivered effective leadership through the 1990s and 2000s at what were then still London-driven firms failed to adapt to the sprawling global partnerships that they have now become. With partnerships being increasingly unwilling to delegate big strategic decisions to leaders during the 2010s, the obvious question of the Covid-19 aftermath is whether managing partners will use the crisis to retake the helm. They’ll certainly try but it’s far from clear that this more robust approach will survive a return to something like normal. Continue reading “The totally scientific secrets of leadership – What I learnt from years of drinking with managing partners”

‘Stay home, save jobs’ – How the legal elite are charting a course through half-lockdown summer

‘Stay home, save jobs’ – How the legal elite are charting a course through half-lockdown summer

Try driving across London or walking its crowded parks in sunny May and it becomes hard to remember that the nation, and much of the Western world, exists in a state of at least semi-lockdown.

While food queues and the inability to do much beyond kick around the house testifies that things are far from normal, since the government in early May started obtusely unwinding the lockdown, the business and legal worlds have entered an ambiguous chapter of the coronavirus saga. Continue reading “‘Stay home, save jobs’ – How the legal elite are charting a course through half-lockdown summer”

Comment: Welcome back to the office? Re-thinking law’s real estate for the post-corona age

Comment: Welcome back to the office? Re-thinking law’s real estate for the post-corona age

If we can already make a few forecasts about some aspects of the post-coronavirus world, currently pole position among things the legal industry abruptly realised will look radically different as of ten weeks ago are large-scale, grand, frightfully-expensive offices. It turns out that we were all used to the modern, shiny, flagship office and now realise we had only the most tenuous grasp of why we believed it so fundamental to the business of professional services all along.

Yet the office will never be the same. Continue reading “Comment: Welcome back to the office? Re-thinking law’s real estate for the post-corona age”

Comment: Law firm leaders already know a lot about the post-Corona world but dare they take advantage?

Comment: Law firm leaders already know a lot about the post-Corona world but dare they take advantage?

What we do not know about the surreal period we’re in thanks to the coronavirus pandemic would fill the proverbial book for law firm leaders, or actually several. I won’t presume to speak to medical/scientific issues, desperate as we are to have some clarity; I’m sticking with the economic/business/strategic issues.

What we don’t know, or don’t know with any degree of confidence, are: Continue reading “Comment: Law firm leaders already know a lot about the post-Corona world but dare they take advantage?”

The slaughter of innocence – A&O’s former chief on the stark staffing choices facing crisis-hit law firms

The slaughter of innocence – A&O’s former chief on the stark staffing choices facing crisis-hit law firms

Law firms around the world are being forced to contemplate something a good many have never had to face before, even during the 2008/09 financial crisis – letting partners and staff go at scale.

Fat profit margins and a paternalistic partnership ethos have traditionally insulated law firms from concerns that are relatively commonplace for their clients. Managing partners often recoil at such barbarous conduct. Yet the global coronavirus crisis is rapidly shredding that rulebook. Continue reading “The slaughter of innocence – A&O’s former chief on the stark staffing choices facing crisis-hit law firms”

Covid crystal ball – A&O’s former chief sets out the post-lockdown dynamic awaiting the legal elite

Covid crystal ball – A&O’s former chief sets out the post-lockdown dynamic awaiting the legal elite

No-one knows the robustness or timing of the economic restart, but many now predict a deep second quarter contraction followed by a spluttering restart over the subsequent three. That may underestimate the impact of the shock and the reactions of both client businesses and households.

A dramatic surge in unemployment will encourage households to slash spending. Many clients are focused on conserving cash and rebuilding balance sheets. Aftershocks of reinfections, further lay-offs, tight working capital and insolvencies as businesses struggle to get in shape when activity starts to pick up seem probable. Continue reading “Covid crystal ball – A&O’s former chief sets out the post-lockdown dynamic awaiting the legal elite”