Comment: Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?

Comment: Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?

For a pundit often claimed to be dismissive of the PR community, the subject of this leader may surprise. The reputation was never that accurate – I’ve always said skilled comms professionals are an asset to major law firms – but let’s put that to one side for now. The topic is something I’ve been noticing for some time: the slow decline of the PR professional as consigliere to law firm leaders. While the breed was never plentiful, it wasn’t that long ago that there was a sizeable group of battle-hardened comms hands that had judgement, integrity, long contact lists and who were effective as support and sources of information to managing partners. Plenty had worked outside the legal industry – indeed, they were usually more adept if they had in their junior years – but they had built strong knowledge of the dynamics of the profession and the realities of working for partnerships. They could make things happen and tell partners what they didn’t want to hear.

At their best they were a useful bridge to the outside world and there to help the firm push the message outwards, ever outwards, be that to clients, potential clients, or the wider industry. The best were also facilitators, focused on hooking up management and a Praetorian guard of headline-friendly partners with the better, relevant journalists and helping relationships flourish. Continue reading “Comment: Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?”

Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?

Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?

For a pundit often claimed to be dismissive of the PR community, the subject of this leader may surprise. The reputation was never that accurate – I’ve always said skilled comms professionals are an asset to major law firms – but let’s put that to one side for now. The topic is something I’ve been noticing for some time: the slow decline of the PR professional as consigliere to law firm leaders. While the breed was never plentiful, it wasn’t that long ago that there was a sizeable group of battle-hardened comms hands that had judgement, integrity, long contact lists and who were effective as support and sources of information to managing partners. Plenty had worked outside the legal industry – indeed, they were usually more adept if they had in their junior years – but they had built strong knowledge of the dynamics of the profession and the realities of working for partnerships. They could make things happen and tell partners what they didn’t want to hear.

At their best they were a useful bridge to the outside world and there to help the firm push the message outwards, ever outwards, be that to clients, potential clients, or the wider industry. The best were also facilitators, focused on hooking up management and a Praetorian guard of headline-friendly partners with the better, relevant journalists and helping relationships flourish. Continue reading “Whatever happened to the PR as managing partner consigliere?”

Comment: A no-deal outlook and the law – time for pragmatic pessimism

Comment: A no-deal outlook and the law – time for pragmatic pessimism

We go to press with Parliament locked in battle with the Government over threats to take the UK into a ‘no-deal’ exit from the European Union (EU). I’m not going to offer political predictions but we are clearly at the point where a disorderly exit from the EU is a very real prospect for the country and the profession.

The good news is that the largest UK law firms feel confident they can largely mitigate the immediate impact of no-deal, even with the abrupt end of EU rights to practise that have been such a boon. This is because potentially obstructive Bars in key markets in France and Germany have been kept onside and UK lawyers feel that other decent workaround options are available (see pages 12-13). With leading UK firms also having substantial foreign operations, including the Legal Business 100 having 19% of their lawyers in mainland Europe, and rapidly increasing their ranks of Irish-registered solicitors, the large outfits at least are braced. The Law Society recently issued research arguing a no-deal would knock 10% off the value of the UK legal market, equivalent to more than £3bn, and costing 10,000 jobs. Most law firm leaders see such predictions as excessive – a scepticism I share – though the industry does believe such an exit would be damaging. Continue reading “Comment: A no-deal outlook and the law – time for pragmatic pessimism”

A no-deal outlook and the law – time for pragmatic pessimism

A no-deal outlook and the law – time for pragmatic pessimism

We go to press with Parliament locked in battle with the Government over threats to take the UK into a ‘no-deal’ exit from the European Union (EU). I’m not going to offer political predictions but we are clearly at the point where a disorderly exit from the EU is a very real prospect for the country and the profession.

The good news is that the largest UK law firms feel confident they can largely mitigate the immediate impact of no-deal, even with the abrupt end of EU rights to practise that have been such a boon. This is because potentially obstructive Bars in key markets in France and Germany have been kept onside and UK lawyers feel that other decent workaround options are available (see pages 12-13). With leading UK firms also having substantial foreign operations, including the Legal Business 100 having 19% of their lawyers in mainland Europe, and rapidly increasing their ranks of Irish-registered solicitors, the large outfits at least are braced. The Law Society recently issued research arguing a no-deal would knock 10% off the value of the UK legal market, equivalent to more than £3bn, and costing 10,000 jobs. Most law firm leaders see such predictions as excessive – a scepticism I share – though the industry does believe such an exit would be damaging. Continue reading “A no-deal outlook and the law – time for pragmatic pessimism”

Comment: As specialists thrive in law’s Darwinian age too many drift on

Comment: As specialists thrive in law’s Darwinian age too many drift on

There are times in my career as a legal pundit where I’ve gone against trend to argue the unpopular view. This is not going to be one of those columns. Instead, this is about speaking up for a truism that is unusual for being largely true and one that law firm leaders themselves frequently cite. I am here to sing the praises for law firms being more specialised in the practices and markets they cover.

Radical stuff, eh? And yet despite how easily the benefits of specialism fit the rhetoric of managing partners, is there much evidence to suggest that the commercial legal profession as a whole is moving in that direction? Far less than commonly believed. Continue reading “Comment: As specialists thrive in law’s Darwinian age too many drift on”

As specialists thrive in law’s Darwinian age too many drift on

As specialists thrive in law’s Darwinian age too many drift on

There are times in my career as a legal pundit where I’ve gone against trend to argue the unpopular view. This is not going to be one of those columns. Instead, this is about speaking up for a truism that is unusual for being largely true and one that law firm leaders themselves frequently cite. I am here to sing the praises for law firms being more specialised in the practices and markets they cover.

Radical stuff, eh? And yet despite how easily the benefits of specialism fit the rhetoric of managing partners, is there much evidence to suggest that the commercial legal profession as a whole is moving in that direction? Far less than commonly believed. Continue reading “As specialists thrive in law’s Darwinian age too many drift on”

Paywars III – City elite caught between rock and hard place

Paywars III – City elite caught between rock and hard place

The news last month that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was to push through the highest real-terms pay rises by a major City firm for a decade is a significant moment for the London legal market.

The decision to hike its associate pay scale, raising its benchmark rate for newly-qualified solicitors from £85,000 to £100,000 is a bold and expensive step for the City giant. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest such a move, which will put Freshfields well ahead of its Magic Circle peers, comes at an annual cost in the region of £10m. Continue reading “Paywars III – City elite caught between rock and hard place”

Being most things to most clients just isn’t sustainable

Being most things to most clients just isn’t sustainable

Years ago, in the immediate wake of the banking crisis, I wrote a column on the notion that top London law firms, having pursued consolidation and growth for the preceding quarter century, had fallen out of love with being big. The argument was that they were increasingly focused on segmentation – meaning tighter focus on their core markets – than consolidation. I have made duffer calls over the years, but in retrospect only one of those points, on losing faith with growth, was substantively borne out. The second observation about a more clearly-segmented legal industry emerging has largely not come to pass. Major London firms have consistently eschewed growth strategies with generally poor results. But no matter the structural pressures building on the legal industry, they have yet to get used to the idea of being more rigorously focused on core markets. Incremental chipping – ditching a bit of structured finance here, a little employment disputes there – is about as good as it got.

Yet there is an increasingly salient argument to be made that major law firms have two broad approaches that look sustainable if they wish to be major forces in high-end law. The first is to operate closer to the classic partner-driven model – a simplified regime based on low leverage, partner-heavy service, and being focused in a relatively small number of markets and geographies. This is a stance successfully applied by many of the more potent US-bred law firms expanding in Europe. Continue reading “Being most things to most clients just isn’t sustainable”

Comment: Innovation needs law firm champions as Axiom doubts emerge

Comment: Innovation needs law firm champions as Axiom doubts emerge

We have at LB Towers something of a reputation for being sceptical of the claims to fresh thinking surrounding much of New Law Land. One exception, though, has been Axiom, the pioneering outfit that pushed lawyering into the mainstream.

Sure, Axiom’s message could be obscured by strangulated attempts to ape Silicon Valley speak, an odd trait given the straight-talking style of founder Mark Harris. But its growth rates and reputation for quality never made you doubt that the outfit was a cut well above most New Law lightweights. Continue reading “Comment: Innovation needs law firm champions as Axiom doubts emerge”

Innovation needs champions as Axiom doubts emerge

Innovation needs champions as Axiom doubts emerge

We have at LB Towers something of a reputation for being sceptical of the claims to fresh thinking surrounding much of New Law Land. One exception, though, has been Axiom, the pioneering outfit that pushed lawyering into the mainstream.

Sure, Axiom’s message could be obscured by strangulated attempts to ape Silicon Valley speak, an odd trait given the straight-talking style of founder Mark Harris. But its growth rates and reputation for quality never made you doubt that the outfit was a cut well above most New Law lightweights. Continue reading “Innovation needs champions as Axiom doubts emerge”