Cross-selling to glory will only get the Big Four so far

Cross-selling to glory will only get the Big Four so far

This title is on the record as having doubts regarding the Big Four’s legal ambitions, at least judged against claims typically made by some outside observers. Readers will all know such assertions: that the group are more sophisticated, slicker and tech-savvy than law firms and set to disrupt law on a global scale.

But while the last 25 years has not yet seen them live up to such claims, the Big Four clearly have formidable assets, contacts and brands and have collectively stepped up their investment in the last three years. Continue reading “Cross-selling to glory will only get the Big Four so far”

Comment: Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds surprising new life

Comment: Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds surprising new life

Sometimes in institutional terms, something has to die before something new can live. The good news for Ashurst, as chronicled in this month’s cover feature, is that the City player is showing vivid signs of renewed life, with the firm set to post by far its best performance after a decade that has been plain bad. After the low points in late 2016 and early 2017, level-headed people were asking how long this could continue before decline became outright calamity.

The obvious caveat – and it is a substantial one – is that this has come largely by building on the ruins of what Ashurst was: a storied, corporate-driven City player with enviable history and a cohesive culture. What has emerged as the old edifice progressively crumbled is unrecognisable against Ashurst circa 2009. Thanks to its controversial merger with Blake Dawson, the shape and practice mix of the business has radically changed. Its once-vaunted private equity team has been battered down to functional coverage across Europe – the final blow to any borderline claim to first-division status being Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s five-partner Paris raid two years ago. And most of the big-name corporate figures have left over the years or retired – most recently Robert Ogilvy Watson and Simon Beddow – leaving a core corporate practice generating around 20% of its income; on paper, you would expect a firm of this heritage to be doing over 30%. Continue reading “Comment: Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds surprising new life”

Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds new life

Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds new life

Sometimes in institutional terms, something has to die before something new can live. The good news for Ashurst, as chronicled in this month’s cover feature, is that the City player is showing vivid signs of renewed life, with the firm set to post by far its best performance after a decade that has been plain bad. After the low points in late 2016 and early 2017, level-headed people were asking how long this could continue before decline became outright calamity.

The obvious caveat – and it is a substantial one – is that this has come largely by building on the ruins of what Ashurst was: a storied, corporate-driven City player with enviable history and a cohesive culture. What has emerged as the old edifice progressively crumbled is unrecognisable against Ashurst circa 2009. Thanks to its controversial merger with Blake Dawson, the shape and practice mix of the business has radically changed. Its once-vaunted private equity team has been battered down to functional coverage across Europe – the final blow to any borderline claim to first-division status being Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s five-partner Paris raid two years ago. And most of the big-name corporate figures have left over the years or retired – most recently Robert Ogilvy Watson and Simon Beddow – leaving a core corporate practice generating around 20% of its income; on paper, you would expect a firm of this heritage to be doing over 30%. Continue reading “Vital signs – the passing of old Ashurst holds new life”

US firms in London – the new apex predators are here

US firms in London – the new apex predators are here

There was never any doubt that 2018 would prove another good year for US law firms in London coming off what has been a great decade for the breed. But it is only when you start to pull together the numbers that you realise how fast the City legal market is shifting in favour of American entrants. Legal Business has a reputation for being bullish on US firms in London. These numbers indicate that we haven’t been bullish enough. There are now more than 7,000 lawyers working in the London offices of the top 50 largest practices in London. Even stripping out the impact of including the legacy Berwin Leighton Paisner’s City practice, that’s an annual increase of 7%, a startling growth rate and one that is actually accelerating even as many expected investment in London to slow in the face of the UK’s looming exit from the EU.

Continue reading “US firms in London – the new apex predators are here”

Comment: Beyond barbarian – Another stride as Kirkland signs private equity’s most wanted

Comment: Beyond barbarian – Another stride as Kirkland signs private equity’s most wanted

If the news in late 2017 that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity veteran David Higgins was joining Kirkland & Ellis was an insult to his Magic Circle firm, the announcement barely into 2019 that Kirkland was following up with his colleague Adrian Maguire looks like grievous injury.

The record-breaking transfer of Higgins was a symbolic reverse and a significant demonstration of Kirkland’s determination to push into mainstream sponsor work in Europe. Yet it was not entirely unexpected – there had been indications that Higgins was becoming disenchanted due to issues with Freshfields’ finance practice and a lack of a more meaningful leadership role. Where he went was more surprising than the matter of his departure. Continue reading “Comment: Beyond barbarian – Another stride as Kirkland signs private equity’s most wanted”

Beyond barbarian: Kirkland signs PE’s most wanted

Beyond barbarian: Kirkland signs PE’s most wanted

If the news in late 2017 that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity veteran David Higgins was joining Kirkland & Ellis was an insult to his Magic Circle firm, the announcement barely into 2019 that Kirkland was following up with his colleague Adrian Maguire looks like grievous injury.

The record-breaking transfer of Higgins was a symbolic reverse and a significant demonstration of Kirkland’s determination to push into mainstream sponsor work in Europe. Yet it was not entirely unexpected – there had been indications that Higgins was becoming disenchanted due to issues with Freshfields’ finance practice and a lack of a more meaningful leadership role. Where he went was more surprising than the matter of his departure. Continue reading “Beyond barbarian: Kirkland signs PE’s most wanted”

City horizons: The Legal Business view on the profession for you to cut out and keep

City horizons: The Legal Business view on the profession for you to cut out and keep

On occasion, we are asked to give our house view at partner conferences and the like. Undertaking one such gig last month for a top-50 UK law firm while the government unhelpfully melted down in the background, I put down some notes on the outline questions the law firm asked me to address before the conference. Obviously, I was not reading my notes in front of the audience in a two-way Q&A and did not stick to the script, but with a little scrubbing up and the identifying information removed, the notes seemed a decent compilation on the kind of topics that Team LB is frequently asked to opine on.

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Continue reading “City horizons: The Legal Business view on the profession for you to cut out and keep”

The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled market forces

The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled market forces

I used to believe the UK legal profession was more imaginative than it got credit for – now I find with an increasingly jaded eye what fresh thinking there is has become stretched ludicrously thin. The vast majority of technology and new models are deployed to make the existing law firm a little more efficient to defensively preserve partner profits.

Continue reading “The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled market forces”

A decade since Lehman the profession still mired in the New Normal

A decade since Lehman the profession still mired in the New Normal

Within days of this issue hitting desks, it will be ten years since Lehman Brothers’ collapse marked what swiftly became the great financial crisis. That event was only the clearest symptom of a disease that had been infecting the banking system for more than a year before Lehman filed for bankruptcy on 15 September 2008.

Yet the process unquestionably signalled changes that have reverberated through economies, politics, business and, yes, the legal profession ever since. By the summer of 2009 the UK profession had for the first time engaged in industrial-scale job cuts, axing more than 5,000 roles at top 100 UK firms alone. Through the lens of the LB100, the profession starkly divides into performance patterns pre and post-Lehman. During the long boom, London’s elite was utterly untouchable. Within the Circle they could falter and scrap for fleeting inter-club advantage. But as far as the rest of the industry was concerned, they were in a world of their own. The initial advances of major US law firms had by the mid-2000s been comprehensively repelled – what chance did mid-tier rivals have? Continue reading “A decade since Lehman the profession still mired in the New Normal”

A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline

A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline

In the summer of 2017 the world’s top law firms were looking at their next financial year with scant optimism given a turbulent geopolitical backdrop and uncertain economic headwinds. As it turned out, driven by a robust global economy, bullish investors and a re-born enthusiasm for cross-border transactions, the 2017/18 season proved kinder than forecast, equating to one of the stronger years seen by the Global 100 since the banking crisis recast the industry.

Assisted by consolidation, the 100 drove their collective top line up $6bn to reach $104.4bn. US-centric firms heavy on marquee transactions and private capital made the best showing – it was a relatively subdued 12 months in the vast US disputes market, hitting firms overly exposed to it. Continue reading “A new Global 100 elite emerges as the old ones decline”