Comment: The social contract – what is the law firm but the people?

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The market for legal services will never be the same again. Mergers, alternative business structures, multi-disciplinary practices, law firm failures, onshoring, offshoring and the continual advance of technology all signpost change, and will continue to drive change in the future. But as we all jostle for market position and attempt to make sense of this ongoing maelstrom, how much thought is being given to the lifeblood of the profession: the lawyers of tomorrow?

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Comment: The mindset for 21st century law – be optimistic and afraid and you’ll do fine

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A law firm pumps out marketing bumpf about how awesome it is and it is received – with ample justification – as self-serving twaddle. An alternative legal services provider pumps out marketing bumpf about how awesome it is and it is met with a round of applause, rather than as the self-serving twaddle wrapped in utopian geek speak it usually is.

The point? These days there are a lot of people talking down law firms. True, plenty of criticism regarding conservatism, high costs and lack of genuine client focus is still justified. But to judge by some claims, law firms aren’t just greedy unresponsive bastards, they are greedy unresponsive bastards standing on a burning deck.

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Comment: The air of unreality – can the big deal deliver for Ashurst?

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‘Historically, what killed Ashurst’s mergers has been apathy. Latham, Fried Frank, Clifford Chance – people were apathetic.’ So recalls one former veteran of the City firm.

Ashurst has finally voted on a transformative merger with its Australian partner. But even two years since the firm agreed a formal alliance with big six Australian outfit Blake Dawson, the idea of Ashurst going through with the tie-up still seems odd, unreal even, though this timeframe was always set out and the Australian practice immediately took the name of its City suitor. Continue reading “Comment: The air of unreality – can the big deal deliver for Ashurst?”

The air of unreality – can the big deal deliver for Ashurst?

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‘Historically, what killed Ashurst’s mergers has been apathy. Latham, Fried Frank, Clifford Chance – people were apathetic.’ So recalls one former veteran of the City firm.

As Legal Business goes to press Ashurst is finally about to vote on a transformative merger with its Australian partner. But even two years since the firm agreed a formal alliance with big six Australian outfit Blake Dawson, the idea of Ashurst going through with the tie-up still seems odd, unreal even, though this timeframe was always set out and the Australian practice immediately took the name of its City suitor.
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The in-house survey: The Last Word

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Canvassed for our annual in-house survey, general counsel at some of the UK’s leading companies give their perspective on risk, fees and the future of law

Keep it in the family

‘As part of our evolution over the past five years, we are also doing more internally, particularly focusing on transactions that do not proceed or do not come to fruition. When you look at the statistics, because we get involved at a very early stage only one in ten deals goes all the way. Of those nine out of ten that do not proceed, we try and identify them as early as possible and ensure that we are handling those matters internally as far as possible.’

Khasruz Zaman, head of M&A legal, Barclays

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Comment: Why the in-house triumph over law firms may prove short-lived

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In the decade prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an excess of work masked the corrosive effect to law firms from competition with increasingly sophisticated and growing in-house legal departments (C&I teams). Post-Lehman, the economic downturn has exposed significant structural challenges to overstaffed law firms, which have been ruthlessly exploited by C&I to decisively shift the balance of power in favour of clients. Nevertheless, the triumph of in-house, measured by its rapid growth and ability to wrest increasingly complex work from law firms while simultaneously squeezing them on rates, may prove to be short-lived.  Continue reading “Comment: Why the in-house triumph over law firms may prove short-lived”

Comment: The age of turbulence has only just begun for the UK’s top 100 firms

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Respectable, yes, but 2012/13 was a tough year, even by the post-Lehman standards law firm leaders have become accustomed to. While a frantic run of consolidation and international expansion pushed revenue up 8% to £19.1bn, like-for-like growth was far more subdued.

On all objective measures of productivity and profitability, there were further slides, even before accounting for inflation. Back-of-the envelope calculations indicate that the UK’s top 100 law firms are about 25-30% off their boom-time highs in real terms underlying profitability.

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Comment: If the mid-tier’s days are numbered why do they keep doing so well?

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We’ve had five years of unforgiving conditions for law firms, everyone agrees. And in many respects that squeeze has had predictable results on the upper echelons and lower half of the LB100. But this year it’s the mid-tier which has had the most interesting 12 months. This group should by rights and conventional wisdom be on its knees, yet judged on 2012/13 results they aren’t. Looking at organic growth, plenty of firms in the 26-50 range out-shone larger rivals and many of the stand-out performances this year – among them Mishcon de Reya, Holman Fenwick Willan, Macfarlanes and RPC – hail from this segment. Continue reading “Comment: If the mid-tier’s days are numbered why do they keep doing so well?”

If the mid-tier’s days are numbered why do they keep doing so well?

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We’ve had five years of unforgiving conditions for law firms, everyone agrees. And in many respects that squeeze has had predictable results on the upper echelons and lower half of the LB100. But this year it’s the mid-tier which has had the most interesting 12 months. This group should by rights and conventional wisdom be on its knees, yet judged on 2012/13 results they aren’t. Looking at organic growth, plenty of firms in the 26-50 range out-shone larger rivals and many of the stand-out performances this year – among them Mishcon de Reya, Holman Fenwick Willan, Macfarlanes and RPC – hail from this segment. Neither is this a one-year deal – there are plenty of firms in this weight class that have maintained a robust five-year growth track, powered by strong niches in areas like private client, TMT and insurance and a general affinity for contentious work.

It is a reminder that there is nothing inherently wrong with a domestic or mid-market focus. It is just one model with its own strengths and weaknesses. Executed with a genuine feel for those strengths it delivers not just well but sometimes spectacularly.

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Dissent: Why the in-house triumph over law firms may prove short-lived

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Scott Gibson and Kristi Edwards argue that GCs have secured a short-term advantage over their external advisers at the risk of undermining their own position

In the decade prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an excess of work masked the corrosive effect to law firms from competition with increasingly sophisticated and growing in-house legal departments (C&I teams). Post-Lehman, the economic downturn has exposed significant structural challenges to overstaffed law firms, which have been ruthlessly exploited by C&I to decisively shift the balance of power in favour of clients.

Continue reading “Dissent: Why the in-house triumph over law firms may prove short-lived”