Allen & Overy’s election delivered an all-star line-up but have the big issues been resolved?

Allen & Overy’s election delivered an all-star line-up but have the big issues been resolved?

Towards the end of 2019, Legal Business remarked that the issue at the heart of Allen & Overy (A&O)’s looming leadership election was if the process would resolve whether the winners could achieve the right to genuinely lead the City giant. Now that the election has concluded, with the re-election of Wim Dejonghe (pictured) as senior partner and the elevation of projects and energy head Gareth Price as managing partner in place of Andrew Ballheimer, it is far from clear that the point has been settled.

That is not a criticism of the calibre of the candidates and winners. Generally regarded as the best managed of the Magic Circle’s four internationalists, A&O certainly attracted a line-up of heavyweight candidates, by no means a given in law firm leadership run-offs. This was most obvious in the contest between Dejonghe and banking co-head Philip Bowden for senior partner and Price and litigation head Karen Seward for the managing partner brief. Continue reading “Allen & Overy’s election delivered an all-star line-up but have the big issues been resolved?”

Comment: Remembering Mr Disruption – How Clayton Christensen became the legal industry’s North Star

Comment: Remembering Mr Disruption – How Clayton Christensen became the legal industry’s North Star

Barely into 2020 and news came that probably the most influential business thinker of the last 20 years had passed away. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who died on 23 January at the age of 67, entered the business world and then popular culture with his concept of ‘disruptive innovation’, which was first outlined in 1995. The model came to wider prominence in the 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma and was to grow in stature along with the rise of the US buccaneering technology giants through the 2000s.

As a study of how small upstarts can upend and ultimately crush huge, well-run industry leaders, the book’s ideas spoke to a globalising world economy in which technology and new operating models made it easier for apparently-unrelated industries to collide. Continue reading “Comment: Remembering Mr Disruption – How Clayton Christensen became the legal industry’s North Star”

Comment: The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership

Comment: The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership

Astute readers will note that our cover feature on 2020 forecasts spends as much time casting its eye back on the 2010s as looking ahead. Assessments based on observable trends support conclusions that better stand the test of time, but such introspection has lent a jaded tone to the resulting piece. How could it not? The 2010s was a decade that began with bold claims and expectations for the legal industry, yet from the perspective of the elite UK firms, it consistently disappointed. And it is one aspect that perhaps explains much of the wider malaise: the increasingly stark problems with leadership and governance at large London-born law firms.

Back when I first started covering the legal industry, the authority of senior management at top London firms was absolute, or at least appeared so from the outside. Occasionally an imperious managing partner overreached, but in the main London firms, which had until recently been much smaller firms built with close social bonds, allowed small groups of individuals to push through rapid shifts in strategy in the 1990s and 2000s. Continue reading “Comment: The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership”

Cracking Wall St is the prize of the decade for City leaders

Cracking Wall St is the prize of the decade for City leaders

If much of the commentary in this issue focuses on what has gone awry for major UK law firms in the previous decade, this column will tackle one big opportunity ahead and there is no bigger opportunity for City firms than the US.

Now for many, the received wisdom is that the London elite have wasted their chance, leaving the vast US legal market effectively closed to them. There is much to that argument. Had the group built on their initial beachheads in the early 2000s, the picture would be very different now. Clifford Chance (CC) partners still lament the Rogers & Wells tie-up, a mis-sold marriage that nonetheless offered a basis for growth that CC instead spent the next 15 years squandering. Had it achieved a conservative 3-5% annual growth at this practice after the deal, it would be generating over $600m stateside now. Continue reading “Cracking Wall St is the prize of the decade for City leaders”

Remembering Mr Disruption – The innovator’s legacy for the profession

Remembering Mr Disruption – The innovator’s legacy for the profession

Barely into 2020 and news came that probably the most influential business thinker of the last 20 years had passed away. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who died on 23 January at the age of 67, entered the business world and then popular culture with his concept of ‘disruptive innovation’, which was first outlined in 1995. The model came to wider prominence in the 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma and was to grow in stature along with the rise of the US buccaneering technology giants through the 2000s.

As a study of how small upstarts can upend and ultimately crush huge, well-run industry leaders, the book’s ideas spoke to a globalising world economy in which technology and new operating models made it easier for apparently-unrelated industries to collide. Continue reading “Remembering Mr Disruption – The innovator’s legacy for the profession”

The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership

The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership

Astute readers will note that our cover feature on 2020 forecasts spends as much time casting its eye back on the 2010s as looking ahead. Assessments based on observable trends support conclusions that better stand the test of time, but such introspection has lent a jaded tone to the resulting piece. How could it not? The 2010s was a decade that began with bold claims and expectations for the legal industry, yet from the perspective of the elite UK firms, it consistently disappointed. And it is one aspect that perhaps explains much of the wider malaise: the increasingly stark problems with leadership and governance at large London-born law firms.

Back when I first started covering the legal industry, the authority of senior management at top London firms was absolute, or at least appeared so from the outside. Occasionally an imperious managing partner overreached, but in the main London firms, which had until recently been much smaller firms built with close social bonds, allowed small groups of individuals to push through rapid shifts in strategy in the 1990s and 2000s. Continue reading “The 2010s marked an unsung crisis in law firm leadership”

Deal View: After years of missed opportunities Weil flirts with a broader City advance

Deal View: After years of missed opportunities Weil flirts with a broader City advance

Investment in Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ City arm has long come in fits and starts, avoiding broader M&A ambitions to become a well-regarded private equity player, while arguably being outpaced by US rivals Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Questions also linger around who will lead when Mike Francies, its veteran London managing partner, steps down. Is the recent flurry of laterals evidence that Weil is ready to seize the City breakthrough that has long looked frustratingly just out of reach?

For critics, the firm has only itself to blame as Weil has long been held back in London by a lack of cohesion or vision about where to take the practice, even as a group of US rivals have steamed ahead in the last five years. Notes one former partner: ‘Someone senior told me years ago: “We’re not a partnership, we’re a group of individuals who choose to work together.” In the States, it was a restructuring firm and people used to call it “We’ll Get You and Mangle You!”’ Continue reading “Deal View: After years of missed opportunities Weil flirts with a broader City advance”

Comment: #MeToo is law’s Libor-rigging moment – Unheralded comes regulation of City law

Comment: #MeToo is law’s Libor-rigging moment – Unheralded comes regulation of City law

Ask senior figures in the profession what has materially changed in the legal industry over the last decade and answers will likely include musings on technology, innovation and, for more pragmatic souls, the growth of American law firms in Europe.

Such woolly answers speak to the reality that the law looks much like it did ten years ago. What will not be mentioned, however, is what is rapidly emerging as a force with the potential to profoundly reshape the industry: the dawn of proactive regulation of major law firms. Continue reading “Comment: #MeToo is law’s Libor-rigging moment – Unheralded comes regulation of City law”