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”

Don’t push your luck with partnership

Don’t push your luck with partnership

Do law firms take partnership for granted? They really shouldn’t as the model has served them so well. Just consider the case. Partnership aligns management and ownership. This has helped large law firms to avoid the patchy governance and rewards-for-mediocrity seen at public companies over the last 20 years and drives partners to a pure form of performance pay. It is inherently long-term and as such has a strong record in promoting independence and ethical standards. And given that law isn’t a capital-intensive trade – at least once you cross the Rubicon of international expansion – partnership is workable (if not ideal) from a financing point of view.

Continue reading “Don’t push your luck with partnership”

Disputes revival has huge implications for City law

Disputes revival has huge implications for City law

A few years ago – during what in retrospect turned out to be a boom – you knew where you stood with City law. The market kept growing and, while the man in the street associated lawyers with courts and disputes, those in the industry knew success came from the other side of the equation. In short, you made the real money from deal-doing and associated disciplines, not the contentious side of practice.

Continue reading “Disputes revival has huge implications for City law”

Cobbetts gets burned but that’s business

There’s nothing like a bit of schadenfreude when matters go awry and the collapse of Cobbetts as an independent entity has proved no exception. Since it was confirmed that the firm was to become the first major UK practice to fail since the 2010 break-up of its local rival Halliwells, plenty have claimed the end was inevitable and a direct result of over-reach.

Continue reading “Cobbetts gets burned but that’s business”

Another conventional wisdom

Another conventional wisdom

A lot of firms talk a lot of rubbish about cohesive, collegiate partnerships these days but the competitive spirit within law firms is alive and well. Politicking, back-stabbing and underhand, cut-throat tactics are all employed to help everyone ascend the greasy pole. But there is another way. Snubbing the hard-nosed approach can work: just look at Bristows.

Continue reading “Another conventional wisdom”

Two decades of consistency

Two decades of consistency

When we first published the gross fees of 35 leading firms with revenues over £20m in 1992, we were approaching the peak of the information age: the exponential rise of e-mail, the web and the mobile phone. Suddenly the way we went about our daily lives changed forever and we have rarely looked back. But as technology changed everything over the past two decades, the legal profession has remained a constant.

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