The upheavals of 2020 have given me more time than normal to reflect on something that I’ve spent a good deal of my career engaging with: leadership in major law firms. But while leadership in law is widely accepted as crucial to the success of major institutions, it is a subject that still attracts much confusion and lazy platitudes. So, for what it’s worth, I’ve put down some reflections drawn from two decades of gossiping, arguing, drinking and debating with the c-suites of large law firms. The following are my personal observations and assertions about the state and nature of leadership in this game we call law.
Leadership at the crossroads As Legal Business has remarked before, 2010 was a curate’s egg for leadership in large City law firms. While operational management continued to improve after the battle testing of the banking crisis, strategic leadership became increasingly uncertain when it came to making the big calls. This happened as the model that delivered effective leadership through the 1990s and 2000s at what were then still London-driven firms failed to adapt to the sprawling global partnerships that they have now become. With partnerships being increasingly unwilling to delegate big strategic decisions to leaders during the 2010s, the obvious question of the Covid-19 aftermath is whether managing partners will use the crisis to retake the helm. They’ll certainly try but it’s far from clear that this more robust approach will survive a return to something like normal. Continue reading “The totally scientific secrets of leadership – What I learnt from years of drinking with managing partners”
DAC Beachcroft (DACB) has notched its sixth consecutive year of turnover and profit growth, the firm’s latest financial results show, while also announcing that managing partner David Pollitt has secured a second term at the helm following an uncontested leadership election.
Revenue at the firm grew 6% to £258m, up from £243m last year, while profit before tax increased 7% to £56m. Profit per equity partner also grew, up a modest 3% to £590,000. Meanwhile, the firm improved its net cash position to £8m, having put in place ‘significant liquidity retention measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis’. Continue reading “‘Future-proofing’: DAC lifts profit and revenue for sixth consecutive year as Pollitt secures second leadership term”
If there is one topic on which the legal profession manages to be both verbose and yet perennially avoid substantive debate it is race. That is unsurprising given the woeful progress that large commercial law firms have made in recruiting black lawyers and staff in any numbers over the last 20 years.
There is progress of a kind in that such topics would once have been ignored, while now law firms feel compelled to load their comms with diversity initiatives and host events around black history month. Yet tackling head-on why many major UK law firms have fewer than 1% of their staff from the black community goes strangely unremarked. Continue reading “Comment: We need to talk about George – It’s time the profession found its voice on race”
Try driving across London or walking its crowded parks in sunny May and it becomes hard to remember that the nation, and much of the Western world, exists in a state of at least semi-lockdown.
While food queues and the inability to do much beyond kick around the house testifies that things are far from normal, since the government in early May started obtusely unwinding the lockdown, the business and legal worlds have entered an ambiguous chapter of the coronavirus saga. Continue reading “‘Stay home, save jobs’ – How the legal elite are charting a course through half-lockdown summer”
If we can already make a few forecasts about some aspects of the post-coronavirus world, currently pole position among things the legal industry abruptly realised will look radically different as of ten weeks ago are large-scale, grand, frightfully-expensive offices. It turns out that we were all used to the modern, shiny, flagship office and now realise we had only the most tenuous grasp of why we believed it so fundamental to the business of professional services all along.
Yet the office will never be the same. Continue reading “Comment: Welcome back to the office? Re-thinking law’s real estate for the post-corona age”
What we do not know about the surreal period we’re in thanks to the coronavirus pandemic would fill the proverbial book for law firm leaders, or actually several. I won’t presume to speak to medical/scientific issues, desperate as we are to have some clarity; I’m sticking with the economic/business/strategic issues.
What we don’t know, or don’t know with any degree of confidence, are: Continue reading “Comment: Law firm leaders already know a lot about the post-Corona world but dare they take advantage?”
The issue no law firm leader wants to address right now is whether partner ranks need to be thinned. Polite conversations continue while everyone studiously avoids the issue everyone knows needs to be discussed.
Why? Continue reading “Comment: Denial and a brutal end – Why cutting partners is still taboo”
Law firms around the world are being forced to contemplate something a good many have never had to face before, even during the 2008/09 financial crisis – letting partners and staff go at scale.
Fat profit margins and a paternalistic partnership ethos have traditionally insulated law firms from concerns that are relatively commonplace for their clients. Managing partners often recoil at such barbarous conduct. Yet the global coronavirus crisis is rapidly shredding that rulebook. Continue reading “The slaughter of innocence – A&O’s former chief on the stark staffing choices facing crisis-hit law firms”
No-one knows the robustness or timing of the economic restart, but many now predict a deep second quarter contraction followed by a spluttering restart over the subsequent three. That may underestimate the impact of the shock and the reactions of both client businesses and households.
A dramatic surge in unemployment will encourage households to slash spending. Many clients are focused on conserving cash and rebuilding balance sheets. Aftershocks of reinfections, further lay-offs, tight working capital and insolvencies as businesses struggle to get in shape when activity starts to pick up seem probable. Continue reading “Covid crystal ball – A&O’s former chief sets out the post-lockdown dynamic awaiting the legal elite”