Work in progress – Big Law’s existential office conundrum still needs fixing

Work in progress – Big Law’s existential office conundrum still needs fixing

The news that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has directed partners, associates and trainees in London and Manchester to come into the office at least three days a week will have piqued interest around the market recently.

The move to increase office time from the 50% requirement the firm set out last year won’t have come as a surprise to many law firm leaders. They have been grappling with the thorny issue of how best to give staff the flexibility on offer pretty much everywhere else in the market while simultaneously avoiding ennui prompted by looking around at an empty office each day. Continue reading “Work in progress – Big Law’s existential office conundrum still needs fixing”

Target on your back – the rise and fall of the ESG lawyer?

Target on your back – the rise and fall of the ESG lawyer?

A lot can happen in a year, and never more so it appears than in the constantly evolving world of the ESG lawyer. Pretty much a year ago to the day, we launched our inaugural ESG report, firms and lawyers having had the bandwidth afforded by the pandemic to get their heads around what they wanted their ESG image to be. In many ways, 2021 felt like a less cynical time. The industry at large was emerging from a health crisis, and we were conditioned to be kind, good corporate citizens because, let’s face it, who knew what personal and professional hell Covid might have wrought on the people we were dealing with?

Last year – the tricky task of getting firms to name mandates they’d rejected on ESG grounds notwithstanding – most firms we canvassed with our ESG questionnaire were tripping over themselves to show off their credentials. In 2021, 77% of firms questioned responded to our survey. With such an encouraging response, this year we went out to more firms, again approaching the top 25 Legal Business 100 firms, but also the top 25 Global London firms, not just the top ten. Only 52% responded. Continue reading “Target on your back – the rise and fall of the ESG lawyer?”

ESG – What is it good for?

ESG – What is it good for?

When Legal Business rounded off our inaugural ESG report last summer, we concluded that the coronavirus pandemic had given law firm leaders the opportunity to crystallise their stance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperatives.

For one thing, partners were not jetting around the world, flying in the face (quite literally) of their carbon footprint reduction targets, yet they still managed to be exceptionally successful. Looking back, it was a time when it was easy to be virtuous. Continue reading “ESG – What is it good for?”

Lessons in management: Spoiler alert – it doesn’t get easier

Lessons in management: Spoiler alert – it doesn’t get easier

‘You can’t appeal to people’s better natures because they don’t have one. Everyone is fundamentally selfish.’ Nihilistic as this remark from a senior corporate partner may sound, on darker days, most law firm leaders would find it hard to argue the point.

While that partner can always be relied upon for a no-holds-barred, often strongly-worded take on the worries that are really keeping law firm leaders awake at night, that is not to say the more diplomatic concerns that people express on the record are any less valid. Continue reading “Lessons in management: Spoiler alert – it doesn’t get easier”

Welcome to the Renaissance

Welcome to the Renaissance

A senior legal headhunter friend, who could easily be described as a Renaissance Man, recently confided that one of the lesser-known challenges of placing lawyers today is that it is no longer sufficient just to be technically brilliant. Employers want candidates to have emotional intelligence and be able to communicate with clients and colleagues – with less of the ego.

Commentators have long banged on about law being a ‘people business’ but truth be told, it hasn’t been until recently – not really. ‘The grey lawyer in the corner,’ as one Magic Circle managing partner hilariously put it, could once have had a long and happy career pencil pushing and never speaking to another soul for 25 years. The same is true of journalists. Being a people person was never really a prerequisite of becoming one, as long as you could bash out a decent story to deadline and not get the paper sued. And I am unfortunately old enough to recall the days when it was de rigueur in the newsroom to scream in the face of a hapless hack over some minor transgression. Continue reading “Welcome to the Renaissance”

LB100 proves pacier than hoped but there’s plenty of ground still to cover

LB100 proves pacier than hoped but there’s plenty of ground still to cover

While commentary from LB100 leaders in recent years may have occasionally sounded like a broken record, with gingerly repeated soundbites about ‘cautious optimism’, this is certainly not true of our 2021 report.

This time last year, despite the market’s best efforts to put a brave face on things, we were still very much in the throes of coronavirus uncertainty, with no-one really knowing the true extent of the damage. ‘I’m more worried about what happens next year,’ noted Roland Turnill, Slaughter and May’s head of M&A in 2020, spelling out the quandary felt by many at the time. ‘The financial crisis was six to eight months of nothing happening, but this could be a bit more of a lull and then six months from now it gets tough. It will be a funny-shaped recovery.’ Continue reading “LB100 proves pacier than hoped but there’s plenty of ground still to cover”

Time to stop sneering at the leaders recognising the value of humanity

Time to stop sneering at the leaders recognising the value of humanity

It is hard to introduce a column on female leaders without sounding trite or – as a woman – vaguely condescending to those featured. In a blatant attempt to side-step this quandary, I will start with an admission of guilt. In our haste to speak with the new wave of non-male leaders for our cover feature, we had all but neglected to speak to any men. ‘Well, I bet you’ve never had that problem before!’ correctly guessed more than one industry contact as we belatedly, and sheepishly, canvassed them for some token male views.

Meeting many of the new leaders over Zoom, some for the first time, has been an energising experience. Even allowing for the inevitable professional veneer, there is a sense of genuine dynamism among this new cadre of women at the upper echelons of law, and much enthusiasm about their impact on the future of the industry. Continue reading “Time to stop sneering at the leaders recognising the value of humanity”

This time, walk the talk behind the ESG bandwagon

This time, walk the talk behind the ESG bandwagon

Three letters seem to be everywhere you look these days: ESG. Law firm after law firm seems to be offering environmental, social and governance advice and even new practice teams to corporates on a weekly basis. Press releases talk about helping clients ‘navigate the regulatory requirements’ and ‘lead the way’. The fastest land animal is arguably not the cheetah, but instead a lawyer jumping on the ESG bandwagon.

Excuse me for sounding a little jaded. It’s just that we’ve been here before with three little letters: CSR. At first that was all about good intentions, firms demonstrating their commitment to corporate social responsibility. But it soon descended into a cynical PR exercise, with those that did a bit of pro bono, an occasional charity bake-off and remembered to turn their lights off once in a while touting themselves as the epitome of CSR best practice. This was before the global financial crisis came and took many of those good intentions away. Continue reading “This time, walk the talk behind the ESG bandwagon”

Hope floats for City listing overhaul but American audacity is vital

Hope floats for City listing overhaul but American audacity is vital

City business has had cause to take heart in recent months with a clear display of political will behind an overhaul of UK listing rules that could see London shake off its Brexit and pandemic woes and reassert itself as a global financial hub. Our Global London report finds US and European firms alike concerned about the status of their London offices now that Brexit is a hard reality.

Proposals set out in the UK Listing Review in March, led by Lord Hill, will particularly pique the interest of anyone tracking the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) market. Indeed, the ubiquity of those deals has made them difficult to miss. There has been much talk of London jumping on the bandwagon in a fit of FOMO as other listing destinations, especially the US and Amsterdam, pile into that frothy market with gusto. However, to say that London has been lagging competitors in the US, Europe and Asia for too long is an understatement, and any shake-up to expedite parity with peers has not come a moment too soon. Continue reading “Hope floats for City listing overhaul but American audacity is vital”

Learning from the ghosts of decades past

Learning from the ghosts of decades past

Although it seems like I’ve been around forever, I wasn’t here when Legal Business first hit desks in January 1990. I was probably listening to Soul II Soul’s Club Classics Vol. One, worrying about my 16th birthday and GCSEs coming up that summer.

I joined Legalease in the autumn of 1997 amid a very vibrant time for the UK and its legal market. We were just a couple of months into the heady days of New Labour; the accountants were all over Big Law; and the Magic Circle firms were rampaging all over Europe. Continue reading “Learning from the ghosts of decades past”