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”

Super growth or decline? Which firm are you?

Super growth or decline? Which firm are you?

Everyone knows the legal industry has been a different place since the banking crisis but it is only when you take the long view that you realise how dramatic these changes have been.

For this month’s cover feature, we looked at three mid-tier law firms that have sustained above-trend growth for ten years. To identify our trio we looked long term at the performance in the LB100, focused on organic growth. Our working assumption was that, while top firms dominated until the credit boom, in relative terms smaller practices excelled over the last ten years. It turned out we had underestimated just how wrenching that post-Lehman shift has been. Continue reading “Super growth or decline? Which firm are you?”

What’s the point of Baker McKenzie?

What’s the point of Baker McKenzie?

Ever wonder what Baker McKenzie is waiting for? The firm once had a crystal clear market position as the only major commercial practice that got anywhere near being truly globalised. And while the sprawling nature of the network meant a 20-year battle to shrug off the franchise tag, Bakers has long achieved polished mid-market credibility in many key jurisdictions. While it was never a threat to the US and London elite, the logic for an emerging giant to handle the mid-stream work for global plcs speaks for itself. Yet Bakers has continually fallen short of its own rhetoric.

Having been an international trailblazer, growth has been pedestrian for a decade now and there is too little evidence of the oft-promised push up the value chain. Continue reading “What’s the point of Baker McKenzie?”

Associate pay smoke screen: it’s fooling no-one

Associate pay smoke screen: it’s fooling no-one

Associate pay used to be simple. Lockstepped and transparent to the nth degree on both sides of the Atlantic, you knew exactly where you stood and exactly when the legal market was overheating.

There were obvious downsides to such transparency. Back in the late 1990s/2000s boom, a salary war triggered by Palo Alto law firms within weeks translated into huge hikes in New York. Soon enough London followed when SJ Berwin announced 25% pay hikes that spread through the market like wildfire. This was the first age of the online message boards, which further stoked the inflationary pay cycle. Continue reading “Associate pay smoke screen: it’s fooling no-one”

The lingering enigma of BLP’s bad year

The lingering enigma of BLP’s bad year

Success is a mysterious beast. Hard to define, built up over years and often the result of a formula even its creators struggle to understand. But failure, well, that’s simple. When a law firm runs into difficulties you can point to bickering partners, problem offices, a weak client-base or an unworkable strategy. Whatever it is, there’s usually a clear narrative to explain the situation.

As such, the current rough patch at Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) is striking less in itself than because the firm seems surprised by – and unable to entirely explain – the situation. When BLP announced in May that it was consulting on deep redundancies, by many accounts even a number of senior partners at the firm were caught unawares. Continue reading “The lingering enigma of BLP’s bad year”