Do law firms take partnership for granted? They really shouldn’t as the model has served them so well. Just consider the case. Partnership aligns management and ownership. This has helped large law firms to avoid the patchy governance and rewards-for-mediocrity seen at public companies over the last 20 years and drives partners to a pure form of performance pay. It is inherently long-term and as such has a strong record in promoting independence and ethical standards. And given that law isn’t a capital-intensive trade – at least once you cross the Rubicon of international expansion – partnership is workable (if not ideal) from a financing point of view.
With the continued success of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and the rise of the litigation boutique, we ask leading disputes partners if the market could become saturated and whether litigators sit better within full-service firms?
A few years ago – during what in retrospect turned out to be a boom – you knew where you stood with City law. The market kept growing and, while the man in the street associated lawyers with courts and disputes, those in the industry knew success came from the other side of the equation. In short, you made the real money from deal-doing and associated disciplines, not the contentious side of practice.
Remember convergence? In the 1990s’ tech boom the concept was all the rage. It was the simple idea that rapidly-advancing communications would see once-discrete platforms and information systems like TV, the printed word and telephones merge and dynamically share data in an economically seismic fashion.
What happened next says a lot about human nature, business and the whimsy of prediction. The internet bubble burst and such utopian visions were suddenly crazy. One received wisdom replaced another. Except convergence was one of the most accurate forecasts ever made about industry – it just took technology another three years to catch up with the hype. The fundamentals prevailed.
There’s nothing like a bit of schadenfreude when matters go awry and the collapse of Cobbetts as an independent entity has proved no exception. Since it was confirmed that the firm was to become the first major UK practice to fail since the 2010 break-up of its local rival Halliwells, plenty have claimed the end was inevitable and a direct result of over-reach.
In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected US president; the Maastricht Treaty was signed and Legal Business published the financial data of 35 firms with revenues over £20m. Over the last 20 years, as the information age has developed, total revenues of the 100 largest law firms based in the UK have swelled from £2.7bn to £17.67bn, outperforming the domestic economy.