The price of everything – Law firm metrics cannot measure broader values that will define their future

The price of everything – Law firm metrics cannot measure broader values that will define their future

Pinsents senior partner Richard Foley argues the industry needs new benchmarks for success

As Legal Business publishes its LB100, it seems apt to step back and ask ourselves whether the industry is focusing on the right things as it seeks to measure success. It should be uncontroversial to say that if law firms are to work better – for themselves, the wider business community and society – they must be diverse and inclusive of all talents. Measuring that type of success is every bit as important as whether a firm moves up or down a place or two in the financial league table. So, perhaps one measure we should look to in the next year’s LB100 is the progress firms are making in tackling issues of inclusion and diversity? Continue reading “The price of everything – Law firm metrics cannot measure broader values that will define their future”

Letter from… Amsterdam: Dutch lawyers find a deft balance amid testing times in cross-border trade

Letter from… Amsterdam: Dutch lawyers find a deft balance amid testing times in cross-border trade

The secret to making your country attractive to foreign investors at a time when populism is reshaping global politics and protectionism is on the march? A stable and business-friendly government, an open society, a well-trained and internationally-minded workforce, and reliable infrastructure are not bad places to start.

And, luckily for Amsterdam’s legal elite, the Netherlands has them all. ‘In these uncertain times, the country has been able to show some stability and that’s appealing,’ says Allen & Overy (A&O)’s local senior partner Brechje van der Velden. ‘Its attractiveness was and still is its reliability – multinationals having security for the future,’ notes Baker McKenzie’s Kim Tan. ‘We know what’s going to happen. The government is co-operative and transparent.’ Continue reading “Letter from… Amsterdam: Dutch lawyers find a deft balance amid testing times in cross-border trade”

Deal View: A niche within a finance niche gives Simmons that much-needed edge after years of drift

Deal View: A niche within a finance niche gives Simmons that much-needed edge after years of drift

While some law firms claim to be all things to all clients, for almost a decade Simmons & Simmons has focused its efforts with increasing rigour on a select number of sectors. Given its unhappy period of drift as a generalist corporate finance player, recent years have delivered far better results. And nowhere is that more in evidence than in its particular take on financial services.

Its importance is reflected in the numbers. Currently the firm has 117 partners across its financial markets practice, 63 of which are in the UK, while 40% (around £150m) of firm-wide revenue comes from finance. Even here the firm has often avoided too much business-as-usual work for banking clients – a certain route to poor margins – to zero in on funds, asset managers and more esoteric areas of regulation. Continue reading “Deal View: A niche within a finance niche gives Simmons that much-needed edge after years of drift”

Comment: Less dire than expected but profession may yet squander influx of BAME lawyers

Comment: Less dire than expected but profession may yet squander influx of BAME lawyers

The good news is that up close the reality turns out to be not as awful as the cynics have feared. After all, for years the profession has avoided a frontal discussion of its record on ethnic diversity, choosing to submerge the topic within the umbrella of diversity and inclusion even as law firms became more intent on selling their progressive credentials.

And in fairness, avoiding that debate has been as much about a general British reticence to tackle issues of race head on with commentators and the media often treading with excessive delicacy in such matters. Still, the end result has been little frank discussion, certainly compared to the increasingly forthright debate on the profession’s record on female representation and retention or tackling social mobility. Continue reading “Comment: Less dire than expected but profession may yet squander influx of BAME lawyers”

Comment: A Big Four breakthrough will need a far better GC offensive

Comment: A Big Four breakthrough will need a far better GC offensive

This title is on the record as having doubts regarding the Big Four’s legal ambitions, at least judged against claims typically made by some outside observers. Readers will all know such assertions: that the group are more sophisticated, slicker and tech-savvy than law firms and set to disrupt law on a global scale.

But while the last 25 years has not yet seen them live up to such claims, the Big Four clearly have formidable assets, contacts and brands and have collectively stepped up their investment in the last three years. Continue reading “Comment: A Big Four breakthrough will need a far better GC offensive”

Comment: Being most things to most clients isn’t sustainable (and it’s choking the City elite)

Comment: Being most things to most clients isn’t sustainable (and it’s choking the City elite)

Years ago, in the immediate wake of the banking crisis, I wrote a column on the notion that top London law firms, having pursued consolidation and growth for the preceding quarter century, had fallen out of love with being big. The argument was that they were increasingly focused on segmentation – meaning tighter focus on their core markets – than consolidation. I have made duffer calls over the years, but in retrospect only one of those points, on losing faith with growth, was substantively borne out. The second observation about a more clearly-segmented legal industry emerging has largely not come to pass. Major London firms have consistently eschewed growth strategies with generally poor results. But no matter the structural pressures building on the legal industry, they have yet to get used to the idea of being more rigorously focused on core markets. Incremental chipping – ditching a bit of structured finance here, a little employment disputes there – is about as good as it got.

Yet there is an increasingly salient argument to be made that major law firms have two broad approaches that look sustainable if they wish to be major forces in high-end law. The first is to operate closer to the classic partner-driven model – a simplified regime based on low leverage, partner-heavy service, and being focused in a relatively small number of markets and geographies. This is a stance successfully applied by many of the more potent US-bred law firms expanding in Europe. Continue reading “Comment: Being most things to most clients isn’t sustainable (and it’s choking the City elite)”

Comment: ‘This ain’t stewardship’ – delaying partnership until mid-30s is unsustainable

Comment: ‘This ain’t stewardship’ – delaying partnership until mid-30s is unsustainable

Having recently shared a few drinks with one of the most talked-up youngish corporate lawyers in the City, the question came up about mid-way through as to what age they made partner. The answer: 36! And there lies much of what ails major law firms, though older partners continue to float around effecting increasingly unconvincing attitudes of surprise.

Consider a few issues for a moment. The haemorrhaging of female talent at mid-level from private practice. The disengagement of associates under 30 with major law firms. The loss of talented lawyers to US law firms. Client dissatisfaction with lack of partner time. Inter-generational tension in law firms. All of these issues have a common theme: the sustained yet unsustainable practice of major law firms pushing partnership decisions until far too late. And let’s be frank: routinely delaying partnership decisions until lawyers hit their mid-thirties is ludicrous. Continue reading “Comment: ‘This ain’t stewardship’ – delaying partnership until mid-30s is unsustainable”

Comment: Too much jam today for partners yet the future of law will need long-term investment

Comment: Too much jam today for partners yet the future of law will need long-term investment

A little over five years ago Legal Business produced a cover feature dubbed ‘How to improve a law firm in 17 easy steps’. The piece – intended as a series of practical proposals to improve the working of law firms – has aged as well as anything printed in these pages.

And while point one – on overhauling lockstep partnerships for the age of global law – has been borne out, it is the second proposal, to phase out full profit distribution models, that is more pressing to the profession. Problems with lockstep are a peculiar challenge for London’s elite. In contrast, the historic model that has prevailed in legal partnerships of distributing the near-entirety of profits to partners annually speaks to an entire industry in danger of tipping itself over a cliff. Continue reading “Comment: Too much jam today for partners yet the future of law will need long-term investment”