Comment: 2020 forecast – City giants forced to offer flexible partnership

Comment: 2020 forecast – City giants forced to offer flexible partnership

I’m going to resist the urge to bang on about the year in review, Brexit or even offer a 2010s retrospective. Not much changed in the profession during the decade – apart from the much-documented onslaught of US law firms – and one way or another we will still be facing another Brexit cliff edge next year.

So we turn instead to something that touches the industry where it lives and breathes: partnership. It defines those who hold it, elevating some while corrupting others, shapes a huge global industry and remains the dominant motivational tool for the profession. The second most-read commentary I ever wrote at Legal Business was a piece earlier this year noting that major law firms have broken their social contract by pushing partnership promotions ridiculously late (the most read was a 2016 piece saying Ashurst needed to pull itself together). Continue reading “Comment: 2020 forecast – City giants forced to offer flexible partnership”

Comment: If A&O’s new leadership team can’t get a mandate, who can?

Comment: If A&O’s new leadership team can’t get a mandate, who can?

Writing at the end of November, with this issue hitting desks only a day or two before the candidates for Allen & Overy (A&O)’s leadership elections are announced – this column is truly hostage to fortune. Who will emerge to lead what has for many been the Magic Circle’s most effectively-led player will have significance spreading well beyond A&O’s City HQ. Still, a good track record cannot be counted on swinging re-election for senior partner Wim Dejonghe, thanks to the firm’s marathon but unsuccessful merger attempt with O’Melveny & Myers. That deal had many supporters but also some entrenched opposition, not least a vocal group of City corporate partners. And even many who were sympathetic grew understandably uneasy at the length of time the deal dragged on. Consequently, this looks to be no rubber-stamping exercise for a second term, even if many believe Dejonghe will run again and stands a good chance of re-election. The open nature of the race was further underlined by the late-minute announcement from managing partner Andrew Ballheimer that he would not seek a second term.

Potential candidates are currently keeping their powder dry, but for months there has been talk that the popular and effective banking co-head Philip Bowden will stand as senior partner, representing a serious candidate with a huge constituency. Even a two-horse race is hard to call, but there has also been suggestion that infrastructure head David Lee could throw his hat in. And the managing partner role is expected to attract a wider field: projects head Gareth Price has been cited, another rock solid candidate, while litigation chief Karen Seward must be weighing her chances. Continue reading “Comment: If A&O’s new leadership team can’t get a mandate, who can?”

Comment: New Law needs a new dictionary to get that promised breakthrough

Comment: New Law needs a new dictionary to get that promised breakthrough

For more than a decade now technology and innovation jargon has been pushing its way inelegantly into the legal sphere. But with what result? Certainly, it has led to industrial levels of hype as cloying Silicon Valley-speak took hold in even the most inhospitable arenas. But more to the point for the development of the industry is the endemic confusion it has sown.

Without re-treading this month’s cover feature on the substance of law firms’ New Law divisions, it is clear that the industry struggles enormously to articulate these services, both at conventional law firms and pure-play providers. Continue reading “Comment: New Law needs a new dictionary to get that promised breakthrough”

‘Reflecting the market right now, not several years back’ – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils a new approach

‘Reflecting the market right now, not several years back’ – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils a new approach

Late last month we published the first Legal 500 UK guide since I took over as editor. While changing something the size of the UK guide is going to take time (for context we include some 1,300 UK and US firms across more than 10,000 individual rankings) readers will have already noticed some improvements.

The legal industry has never had a reputation for being the fastest-moving sector, and the same criticism has at times been levelled against the analysts that assess the profession. As a research business we always start with the quantitative data and tangible evidence as the basis of our research – this means there will inevitably be some time lag between what we are ranking firms on and what is happening within their practice right now. Continue reading “‘Reflecting the market right now, not several years back’ – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils a new approach”

‘Kirkland is a raw, Darwinian force’ – LB’s take on the pre-Brexit City law market

‘Kirkland is a raw, Darwinian force’ – LB’s take on the pre-Brexit City law market

On occasion, they let the head of Legal Business take a break from the glamorous job of proofing features to go meet and greet. One such occasion saw me last month pop along to a major UK firm’s partnership conference to provide the LB perspective on the funny old game we call law.

Below is an edited version of my notes, jotted down to help organise my thoughts in response to the outline questions ahead of the event. Obviously, I wasn’t reading my notes during a two-way discussion, so I often rambled on about other stuff – I vaguely recall a monologue about the ‘Napoleon phase’ of managing partners that go on too long before going crazy. But for LB readers, these notes represent a decent summary of our current view of the industry at a particularly turbulent moment. I’ve removed all identifying references to the firm generous enough to host me. Continue reading “‘Kirkland is a raw, Darwinian force’ – LB’s take on the pre-Brexit City law market”

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”