The future of law will need long-term investment

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 “The future of law will need long-term investment”

PRIME and the rise of the tick-box ‘solution’

PRIME and the rise of the tick-box ‘solution’

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 “PRIME and the rise of the tick-box ‘solution’”

Age of just-about-OK ethics has passed

Age of just-about-OK ethics has passed

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 “Age of just-about-OK ethics has passed”

LB100: Smoke, turmoil and a tonne of cash

LB100: Smoke, turmoil and a tonne of cash

The latest financial year has not been a vintage period for those wishing the legal industry would fall into concise patterns. Glancing at the LB100, separating the winners and losers by breed is more difficult than at any time over the last 20 years.

But murky as the picture is, some broad outlines can still be discerned. The 2017/18 season was one of the best 12 months of trading since the banking crisis a decade ago reset the legal market. Continue reading “LB100: Smoke, turmoil and a tonne of cash”

The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility

The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility

Through much of 2018 the talk has been that major City firms have been extraordinarily busy. GDPR, a rebound in transactional activity as deals put on hold by Brexit are pushed through, a robust showing from the global economy…

And this has translated into… not that much. London’s Big Four Magic Circle firms have packed in closely this year, with revenues up between 4% and 6%. True, in contrast to 2016/17, when currency movements flattered subdued underlying results, this year they have performed modestly better than the headline numbers suggest. But for those whose memories stretch to the 1990s through to 2008, when ‘really busy’ meant routinely sticking 10% to 15% like-for-like on the top line, this remains a very different environment. Continue reading “The new outlook for City leaders – Casinos hitched with a utility”

Yet unremarked, generational conflict cripples City law

Yet unremarked, generational conflict cripples City law

Our cover feature this month largely speaks for itself in assessing the changing face of partnership as Millennials begin colonising the senior ranks of City law firms. Within five years, this group will be the driving force of elite commercial advisers.

Yet this column is not about the changing attitudes of youngish lawyers, more an issue that touches so many topics in the pages of this magazine, spanning remuneration, strategy, governance and talent. Quite simply, that is the success – and much more often failure – of leading law firms in balancing the interests of their younger ranks with their older partners. Continue reading “Yet unremarked, generational conflict cripples City law”

Comment: Star power is core to the law firm sales pitch – clients won’t buy excuses

Comment: Star power is core to the law firm sales pitch – clients won’t buy excuses

Within the same week, two Magic Circle firms stressed to Legal Business the same mantra after departures of big-name lawyers: it is not about stars, the focus is the platform and that is what top clients are buying. In a mobile market where even the once-untouchable elite City law firms lose marquee names to high-paying rivals, it is an increasingly familiar refrain, albeit one that has spread from mid-weight stalwarts to the tier more used to the role of hunter than prey.

But law firms – and this goes double for the leaders in the UK and US – would be well advised to go nowhere near the seductive institutional defence and not only because the financial results of the last ten years provide ample evidence that contradicts the assertion. Continue reading “Comment: Star power is core to the law firm sales pitch – clients won’t buy excuses”

Star power is core to your pitch – accept it

Star power is core to your pitch – accept it

Within the same week, two Magic Circle firms stressed to Legal Business the same mantra after departures of big-name lawyers: it is not about stars, the focus is the platform and that is what top clients are buying. In a mobile market where even the once-untouchable elite City law firms lose marquee names to high-paying rivals, it is an increasingly familiar refrain, albeit one that has spread from mid-weight stalwarts to the tier more used to the role of hunter than prey.

But law firms – and this goes double for the leaders in the UK and US – would be well advised to go nowhere near the seductive institutional defence and not only because the financial results of the last ten years provide ample evidence that contradicts the assertion. Continue reading “Star power is core to your pitch – accept it”

Comment: Why law firm ‘values’ ring hollow (a call for honesty)

Comment: Why law firm ‘values’ ring hollow (a call for honesty)

Attending a conference recently for general counsel was a reminder that for all the chasm that remains between clients and law firms, they have both imbibed many of the same corporate fashions. A few years back it was all adding value and performance, now it is ‘values’, ‘authenticity’ and other forms of Diet Coke morality.

Talk to law firms, as with plcs, and without irony, you will hear much about ‘tone from the top’, ‘walking the talk’ and interchangeably using ‘piece’ when you mean ‘issue’. Which would all be fine if there was any indication this was leading to a more ethical or caring profession. It would also help if such talk resonated remotely beyond the upper echelons of the corporate and professional services worlds, and did not provoke huge cynicism in staff and clients. Continue reading “Comment: Why law firm ‘values’ ring hollow (a call for honesty)”

No-one cares about those corporate values

No-one cares about those corporate values

Attending a conference recently for general counsel was a reminder that for all the chasm that remains between clients and law firms, they have both imbibed many of the same corporate fashions. A few years back it was all adding value and performance, now it is ‘values’, ‘authenticity’ and other forms of Diet Coke morality.

Talk to law firms, as with plcs, and without irony, you will hear much about ‘tone from the top’, ‘walking the talk’ and interchangeably using ‘piece’ when you mean ‘issue’. Which would all be fine if there was any indication this was leading to a more ethical or caring profession. It would also help if such talk resonated remotely beyond the upper echelons of the corporate and professional services worlds, and did not provoke huge cynicism in staff and clients. Continue reading “No-one cares about those corporate values”