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.

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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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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.

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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”

BCLP: A slightly better sales pitch than expected

BCLP: A slightly better sales pitch than expected

It would take a generous observer of Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) to claim the once sure-footed outfit had managed anything better than an indifferent run in the years preceding its union with Bryan Cave. Having dazzled through the 2000s – a period in which the firm seemed to have single-handedly revived the unfashionable notion of a City mid-tier – the last five years have been a stark contrast. Volatile financial performance, a disastrous run of partner recruitment and tension over its property-heavy direction – all in, it was unclear where the firm was going.

As such, confirmation earlier this year that BLP was uniting with a solid US operator, but one whose brand had limited potency in Europe, did not quicken the pulse. Continue reading “BCLP: A slightly better sales pitch than expected”

16 easy steps to making you a great managing partner

16 easy steps to making you a great managing partner

Recently a surprisingly popular column in Legal Business took a jaded view of the state of leadership in major law firms. The nub of our argument was that the law firm c-suite had descended into technocratic managerialism over genuine leadership, leaving once bold institutions to put off crucial decisions.

That piece drew on years of hanging around with managing and senior partners, which at times means feeling more like a leadership therapist/their mother than a reporter. But in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, here are my tips to successful law firm leadership. And ignore the flip tone because I mean it all. Continue reading “16 easy steps to making you a great managing partner”

Brexit looms yet City law tilts further towards US leaders

Brexit looms yet City law tilts further towards US leaders

Striking numbers abound in this year’s Global London table, if you are into that kind of thing. The three pace-setting US brands in London – Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis and White & Case – are all generating in the $300m region in the Square Mile, last year saw the first $10m lateral and my back-of-the-envelope scribbling indicates that the top 50 US firms are comfortably pulling in over $5bn in the UK.

The market is increasingly now defined by this trio, predictably so in the case of Latham, though City lawyers are still trying to get their heads around the idea of Kirkland and White & Case as mounting a frontal challenge. A few years ago, I’d have been equally sceptical, particularly in the latter’s case, but if there is a glaring hole in the game plan of these two outfits, they are hiding it well. With all three making ground in mainstream transactional work through 2017 and securing significant hires – the idea that certain kinds of M&A will remain the preserve of City advisers over the next three years looks fanciful.

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