If A&O’s new team can’t get a mandate, who can?

If A&O’s new team can’t get a mandate, who can?

Writing at the end of November, with this issue hitting desks only a day or two before the candidates for Allen & Overy (A&O)’s leadership elections are announced – this column is truly hostage to fortune. Who will emerge to lead what has for many been the Magic Circle’s most effectively-led player will have significance spreading well beyond A&O’s City HQ. Still, a good track record cannot be counted on swinging re-election for senior partner Wim Dejonghe, thanks to the firm’s marathon but unsuccessful merger attempt with O’Melveny & Myers. That deal had many supporters but also some entrenched opposition, not least a vocal group of City corporate partners. And even many who were sympathetic grew understandably uneasy at the length of time the deal dragged on. Consequently, this looks to be no rubber-stamping exercise for a second term, even if many believe Dejonghe will run again and stands a good chance of re-election. The open nature of the race was further underlined by the late-minute announcement from managing partner Andrew Ballheimer that he would not seek a second term.

Potential candidates are currently keeping their powder dry, but for months there has been talk that the popular and effective banking co-head Philip Bowden will stand as senior partner, representing a serious candidate with a huge constituency. Even a two-horse race is hard to call, but there has also been suggestion that infrastructure head David Lee could throw his hat in. And the managing partner role is expected to attract a wider field: projects head Gareth Price has been cited, another rock solid candidate, while litigation chief Karen Seward must be weighing her chances. Continue reading “If A&O’s new team can’t get a mandate, who can?”

Dynamic forces – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils new approach

Dynamic forces – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils new approach

Late last month we published the first Legal 500 UK guide since I took over as editor. While changing something the size of the UK guide is going to take time (for context we include some 1,300 UK and US firms across more than 10,000 individual rankings) readers will have already noticed some improvements.

The legal industry has never had a reputation for being the fastest-moving sector, and the same criticism has at times been levelled against the analysts that assess the profession. As a research business we always start with the quantitative data and tangible evidence as the basis of our research – this means there will inevitably be some time lag between what we are ranking firms on and what is happening within their practice right now. Continue reading “Dynamic forces – The Legal 500 UK launch unveils new approach”

The end of A&O’s marathon O’Melveny merger bid reveals the stark choices facing the Magic Circle

The end of A&O’s marathon O’Melveny merger bid reveals the stark choices facing the Magic Circle

This article sits in the news leader slot of our latest issue, but when considering Allen & Overy (A&O) and its epic courtship of O’Melveny & Myers, the defining factor has been the absence of news. Since it emerged last spring that A&O was in merger talks with the Los Angeles-bred firm, there have been bare scraps of information, alongside alternating whispers the deal was/was not on. Finally the resolution came on 2 September, with the pair announcing the end of the talks with the traditional noises about mutual respect.

The reason for the long delay was as much the scale and ambition of the merger as the inevitable complications of bringing 700 partners on side. The looming spectre of a messy ‘no-deal’ Brexit and fresh falls in sterling further strained a delicate situation, probably tipping it over the edge. Not only were the firms aiming for full financial integration upfront – a move never attempted on the scale of a £2.4bn transatlantic union – the aim was to do an immediate merging of governance, leadership and remuneration. Forget vereins and grace periods kicking tricky issues down the road. That all-in approach raised the stakes and logistic issues enormously. Not least it would have involved substantive reform of A&O’s remuneration structure to make it more compatible with a US firm. Continue reading “The end of A&O’s marathon O’Melveny merger bid reveals the stark choices facing the Magic Circle”

Comment: Global 100 reportcard – US leaders continue decade-long surge as City rivals dither

Comment: Global 100 reportcard – US leaders continue decade-long surge as City rivals dither

Judging the world’s largest law firms, it is becoming a familiar tradition after we unpack the results of the Global 100 to look ahead to a more troubled outlook… which then turns into another year of robust growth.

Take 2019’s results, one of the strongest showings since the banking crisis a decade ago, which have seen the group push revenue up 9% to $113.51bn, while profits per equity partner (PEP) across the 100 increased 7% to an average $1.87m. Over a third of firms saw revenues increase by more than 10%, up from 16 in 2016; just four saw declining turnover. While underlining revenue per lawyer once again barely moved upwards, there are now 19 firms with PEP in excess of $3m, all bar one American, and eight exceeding $4m. Continue reading “Comment: Global 100 reportcard – US leaders continue decade-long surge as City rivals dither”

Global 100 results show US question looming ever more ominously

Global 100 results show US question looming ever more ominously

Judging the world’s largest law firms, it is becoming a familiar tradition after we unpack the results of the Global 100 to look ahead to a more troubled outlook… which then turns into another year of robust growth.

Take 2019’s results, one of the strongest showings since the banking crisis a decade ago, which have seen the group push revenue up 9% to $113.51bn, while profits per equity partner (PEP) across the 100 increased 7% to an average $1.87m. Over a third of firms saw revenues increase by more than 10%, up from 16 in 2016; just four saw declining turnover. While underlining revenue per lawyer once again barely moved upwards, there are now 19 firms with PEP in excess of $3m, all bar one American, and eight exceeding $4m. Continue reading “Global 100 results show US question looming ever more ominously”

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”