LB100: Legal elite shows resilience amid ominous haze

LB100: Legal elite shows resilience amid ominous haze

It is a measure of how fast-moving the Brexit-dominated landscape now is that imagery in this year’s Legal Business 100 (LB100) is dominated by Conrad, Castro and Coppola as the summer months have moved to rapidly challenge notions of how Britain works. One of the most stable and predictable major economies in the world has been locked into a mounting political conflict more akin to a banana republic than the Mother of Parliaments. Sooner or later Westminster drama on this scale will spill into a real economy that already contracted in the second quarter.

And yet, the UK’s largest law firms have endured another 12 months of uncertainty and ominous haze with impressive resilience, pushing revenues up 9% to £26.35bn, one of the better years of all-round performance since the banking crisis. And though a handful of mergers flatter that headline figure, 28 firms managed double-digit revenue growth, showing that plenty of UK firms are thriving in these challenging conditions. Continue reading “LB100: Legal elite shows resilience amid ominous haze”

Comment: Profit per equity partner and law’s other enduring hypocrisies

Comment: Profit per equity partner and law’s other enduring hypocrisies

No-one got into journalism to be consistent, the trade typically being more attractive to trouble-makers than those hunting for enduring responsibility. But while hoping that proud tradition continues, in one area the legal media has pushed its licence for hypocrisy that step too far: the debate around law firm profitability.

This over the years has typically resulted in law firms being entreated to do better on all manner of broader concerns one minute… only for the same publications to turn around and berate such institutions for not driving partner profits up to whatever stratospheric figure is deemed appropriate. Don’t bother to send in examples, LB’s done it with the rest. Woe betide the law firms that try to invest or think imaginatively about retaining profits for the middle term. Continue reading “Comment: Profit per equity partner and law’s other enduring hypocrisies”

Profit per partner and other enduring hypocrisies

Profit per partner and other enduring hypocrisies

No-one got into journalism to be consistent, the trade typically being more attractive to trouble-makers than those hunting for enduring responsibility. But while hoping that proud tradition continues, in one area the legal media has pushed its licence for hypocrisy that step too far: the debate around law firm profitability.

This over the years has typically resulted in law firms being entreated to do better on all manner of broader concerns one minute… only for the same publications to turn around and berate such institutions for not driving partner profits up to whatever stratospheric figure is deemed appropriate. Don’t bother to send in examples, LB’s done it with the rest. Woe betide the law firms that try to invest or think imaginatively about retaining profits for the middle term. Continue reading “Profit per partner and other enduring hypocrisies”

The influx of BAME lawyers may yet be squandered

The influx of BAME lawyers may yet be squandered

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 “The influx of BAME lawyers may yet be squandered”

Comment: The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps

Comment: The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps

The name, the Mindful Business Charter, does not in itself inspire huge confidence but, judging the legal profession on its willingness to at least try to address stress and mental health pressures, the initiative still constitutes pretty much law’s quality-of-life cutting edge.

The venture, first put together last year by Pinsent Masons, Addleshaw Goddard and Barclays, was an attempt to draw up a charter setting out what clients and law firms should reasonably expect of individual lawyers. A kind of rules of engagement, if you will, for not running your people into the ground. Continue reading “Comment: The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps”

The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps

The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps

The name, the Mindful Business Charter, does not in itself inspire huge confidence but, judging the legal profession on its willingness to at least try to address stress and mental health pressures, the initiative still constitutes pretty much law’s quality-of-life cutting edge.

The venture, first put together last year by Pinsent Masons, Addleshaw Goddard and Barclays, was an attempt to draw up a charter setting out what clients and law firms should reasonably expect of individual lawyers. A kind of rules of engagement, if you will, for not running your people into the ground. Continue reading “The Mindful Business Charter: In praise of baby steps”

The big 30 – Make ‘em partner or you’ll lose ‘em

The big 30 – Make ‘em partner or you’ll lose ‘em

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 “The big 30 – Make ‘em partner or you’ll lose ‘em”

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”