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EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES

The Global 100 Debate Roundtable: Chasing Alpha





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   Participants included


To mark our Global 100 report, Legal Business teamed up with SSQ to discuss the issues shaping the prospects of the world’s top law firms.

As the Global 100 closes in on the $100bn mark, the market for high-end legal services remains as turbulent as it has since the banking crisis seven years ago ushered in an environment defined by subdued demand and less forgiving clients.

But gathering a group of senior figures from leading law firms, as we did to mark the publication of this year’s Global 100 report along with Shilton Sharpe Quarry, they are inclined to see more opportunity than threat – or at least to stay focused on the opportunity that a period of upheaval provides for the world’s legal elite.

Yes, law firms are expected to commoditise their bread-and-butter work; yes, clients take a tougher line on fees; and, yes, changing associate attitudes and technology promise wrenching shifts for even the most storied legal institutions. But a period of flux offers compelling opportunities for the advisers able to deftly position themselves – either through re-engineering as 21st century global service giants or tightly-focused partnerships – as purveyors of strategic insight.

Despite the widely varying strategies around the table, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett funds partner Jason Glover summed up the mood: ‘If we as an industry were to move away from purely being seen as legal service providers, and provide a little bit more business advice, that would go a long way.’

It seems, the stronger half of the Global 100 at least, is intent on going such a sizeable distance.

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Alex Novarese, Legal Business: At the top of the global legal market, is there one compelling opportunity or threat that stands out?

Wim Dejonghe, Allen & Overy: Technology. In five to ten years, it will have a huge impact on the industry.

Natasha Harrison, Boies, Schiller & Flexner: There is huge opportunity for change at every level of the legal profession. There is opportunity with women coming up, and men as well, with flexible working arrangements. There is opportunity in how we reshape our business. I would say this but when I made my move to Boies Schiller, it was prefaced very much on my belief that in certain areas of the market, there is a real role for specialist firms.

Mark Poulton, Clifford Chance: These are very exciting times. Clearly, it is a time of great flux, and great challenges for our clients. At the same time, our clients want less volume and more value, and this is a great opportunity for us.

Tamara Box, Reed Smith: I see an opportunity and a threat in the same thing, and that is the millennials. They are forcing us to think differently. They are impact and skill seekers who think they’ve been in a job too long after three years. They are a threat, in that we are not reacting fast enough to what they require of us, in changing our business model. If they are not looking for the carrot of partnership, what are we going to do to motivate them?

Mark Wagner, Shilton Sharpe Quarry: I think it is for all firms to decide how you are looking after your next generation, the partners in their thirties and forties. There are huge opportunities for these people externally, and you have got to make sure they have the same opportunities internally.

Oliver Brettle, White & Case: Given the global uncertainty, we continue to be surprised by the wealth of opportunities that exist in London. The other firms building up here as well as the litigation firms see London as being a huge litigation centre, punching above its weight in the global legal market. For London, thank goodness for English law. There is a potential threat to English law’s position in the world. Are we getting the quality of judges through in the High Court in London, when judges in the High Court are now being paid less than a fairly junior associate in many leading law firms?

Logan Mair, Ashurst: For my business, it is the formation of a global elite set of law firms, and making sure that we are relevant to that.

Nigel Boardman, Slaughter and May: I would pick up the point about judges, and say it is also about English law being fit for purpose. While we have a Law Commission, we do not have a Law Commissioner that covers City work apart from insurance. We do not make the right decisions about the way in which we develop the law to ensure that English law remains relevant all of the time. That is a serious long-term worry.

Justin Stock, Cooley: The cliff at which something becomes commoditised, because of technology and because of the way law is developing, is much sharper than it has ever been. There is a threat and an opportunity to stay ahead of that.

Nick Shilton, Shilton Sharpe Quarry: Two linked themes come to mind. The first is the war for talent. It is more intense in London than at any time in the 18 years I have been recruiting. We see more lateral partner movement than ever before.

The challenge is for law firms to be genuinely distinctive. There are some firms that can make a much stronger case for being distinctive than others. We have great challenges in distinguishing between too many look-alike firms to candidates. I would contend the Global 100 could be consolidated over time down to fewer than 50 firms, or maybe fewer than 25 firms.

Jason Glover, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: The threat is around the table. I do not believe any one firm is going to develop a knockout strategy. The opportunity comes in terms of providing a value-added service. That sounds very trite. The way I would encapsulate that is in one very simple phrase. We as an industry need to become better business advisers. If we as an industry were to move away from purely being seen as legal service providers, and provide a little bit more business advice, that would go a long way.

We are starting to see a polarised industry, whereby a lot of legal services are seen to be commoditised. Relatively few legal services are seen to be value-add, but if you can provide that then you can price accordingly.

Alex Novarese: Picking up Oliver’s point about the quality of judges, can we get Natasha and Sue’s views?

Sue Prevezer QC, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan: There is a real concern. The pensions have been cut. They are paid less than many second-level associates in US law firms. Many judges are demoralised. People who would otherwise take judicial appointments are opting to take arbitration appointments.

Natasha Harrison: I would agree with all of that. We still have a really strong judiciary in the Commercial Court and the Chancery Division. It is the pipeline we should be concerned about. The economics are so skewed. There is still a good level of quality at the bench, but who is coming up next behind it? Richard Snowden has just gone up. He is incredibly brilliant and young. However, he is a rarity and many leading silks are delaying or declining to go to the bench – in part I expect because the economics are so skewed.

Sue Prevezer QC: They are also still not attracting sufficient women and minorities to sit in judicial functions. There is a further problem in that they are forced to retire at 70. They should be capitalising on that, to allow people to sit beyond 70 and to join the judiciary at a much later stage, when they have earned what they feel is enough money.

Alex Novarese: Is it a threat that other dispute resolution hubs are using English senior barristers or ex-judges?

Sue Prevezer QC: Absolutely. For example, Mr Justice Eder left the High Court in London recently after five years. He is now sitting in the High Court in Singapore, and no doubt will sit as an arbitrator in various other venues. Arbitration is coming up as a real challenge.

Alex Novarese: It has long struck me in the UK that the legal profession, as the second largest legal market in the world, has a lot of technical input when it comes to legislation, but next to no input at a broader policy end.

Nigel Boardman: The City of London Solicitors’ Company does splendid work in making sure there are punctuations in the right place in the legislation, but it does not help to frame it. If I just give an example, Australia has moved in rights issues to a short-form rights issue process, where you just issue a cleansing press release. We, instead, have a 200-page prospectus, which costs about £1m to produce and six weeks of work, to shareholders who already own shares in the company. We should not be doing that. It needs us as a profession to stand up and say what could be done to change it, and there is not a suitable forum for that.

Alex Novarese: What are the general feelings about the Global Law Summit? It did not seem to hit the mark.

Nigel Boardman: What Global Law Summit?

Sue Prevezer QC: It was advertised very late. It was very expensive. There were many organisations who could have been represented who were not, because of either not being told about it or it being too expensive.

Alex Novarese: I heard a speech from Grayling, which had tumbleweed in the background. That was not with legal aid lawyers. That was with commercial lawyers.

Jason Glover: The reality is as you say, Nigel. I do not think there is the political will. In our area of funds, we have a very archaic piece of 1907 legislation upon which we heavily rely. It is four pages. It does not work. We have been pushing for a long, long time now to change [it]. Places like Jersey, Guernsey and even Delaware have woken up to a need for clarity. We do not have the political will to do it.

Alex Novarese: English law itself has huge clout, yet the profession has a staggering lack of effectiveness at having its voice heard. You could look at many industries that are not particularly popular, and that Britain is not particularly good at, but they are heard in Whitehall.

Nigel Boardman: The easiest solution for us would be to have a Law Commissioner for the City, who is responsible for looking at reform of English law, which affects the City. It is not a very expensive thing.

Alex Novarese: Quickly on the point of Australia being more commercial, there has been some criticism of the Abbott administration for a lack of state-craft and building links with the wider Asia-Pacific region. Is that something you feel?

Mark Rigotti, Herbert Smith Freehills: In times gone by, Australia played a leadership role with the Pacific island communities. Although that remains of some importance I just do not think that is the main thing on the government’s radar at all. Australia is looking towards China more than in the past.

Alex Novarese: There has been talk of a market correction in China for years, but there seems to be some of that materialising. Does that change aspirations?

Oliver Brettle: You cannot adopt a short-term approach when investing. China is a huge country and a huge market. In time, there is no question in the minds of most international law firms that it will be an increasingly important market for us. It remains a very tough market, though, for us all, as international firms. It is very price-sensitive. There are lots of lawyers. We are all there waiting.

Wim Dejonghe: China has huge challenges. The hiccoughs we have seen in the last months are growing pains. The Shanghai stock exchange is a relatively small market. Generally, capital markets are less relevant for the Chinese economy than they are for the western world.

There is a bigger issue about investment being pulled out of emerging markets generally. China is one of them, but you see that more in South-East Asia right now. Markets like Singapore have slowed down quite a bit. You see that in the Middle East, but for other reasons, because of the oil price going down. You see that in Latin America, for different reasons. You see that in Russia, again because of the oil prices and sanctions. There is a bigger theme around investor appetite in emerging markets.

China is going into this big shift from an infrastructural economy to a consumer economy. Long term, there is no real change in our approach to it. Emerging markets have more volatility and you just have to accept it.

Sue Prevezer QC: Do you anticipate investment coming out of China into America?

Wim Dejonghe: I agree with that. The shift from Shanghai to Beijing, which every firm tried to do five years ago, was about outward-bound and I think was exaggerated actually. What we see is there is still quite a bit of inward-bound investment going on, so Shanghai remains pretty relevant.

Jason Glover: Isn’t the heart of the problem a fundamental economic one, which is high supply and low demand for product? There will be more demand, but I suspect it is always going to be outstripped, at least in the short to medium term, by the supply. My own sense is that for international law firms to make money in China, we are not just talking about a few years.

Wim Dejonghe: Of course. We and some others have been there for 30 years in Hong Kong, for example. You see 2008, just as the financial crisis arrived, loads of international firms [moved] into Hong Kong. It [was] horrible, and you just have to sit through that, and then people start pulling out and you see it coming back. Actually, Hong Kong and China now are quite a bit easier than they were between 2008 and 2010.

Natasha Harrison: It is also about whether you are there for the right reasons. It is having a proper strategic reason for being in a particular jurisdiction.

Rosemary Martin, Vodafone: As a buyer of legal services I am happy to hear there is an oversupply. As for what would make us reduce the amount of spend that we have with you guys, the threat comes probably from the structure of legal services supply. As a buyer we will always look for value for money and then for certain things we look for the absolute stars. That split has always been there, but it has intensified in the last five to seven years.

Alex Novarese: There has been a fair shift in the buying habits of large plcs since the banking crisis. Has that reached a kind of equilibrium or does that process keeps running?

Rosemary Martin: It will continue. Corporates are under continuous pressure to become ever more efficient, and that very quickly spreads out. I do not think we have reached equilibrium.

Natasha Harrison: You distinguished between commoditised and high-end. Do you see technology as driving the commoditised market in time?

Rosemary Martin: Yes, in part, but in some ways that change has already happened. It is a pathetic thing to say, but as a corporate in a no-frills office in the West End of London, I look at the very expensive real estate that you guys occupy, and think: ‘Why am I paying for that, when actually your lawyers would perform better if they were using mobile technology, and were working in a flexible way?’

The technology may happen more in how you and your lawyers – and I hope the young lawyers coming through – expect to be able to work. That is potentially very liberating, and it has lots of cost implications that are very positive.

Alex Novarese: Could you very quickly walk us through your experience of using a blend of LPOs and alternative law suppliers?

Rosemary Martin: We now have the managed legal service providers competing against each other to be as innovative as they can be. We are trying to get an end-to-end process around contracting with our business customers, handling the contract creation, execution of workflow, storage, retrieval, and metadata so we can manage those contracts in a very real and tight way.

We put that out to tender. It is our procurement guys and our technology people, as well as members of the legal team, who are looking out to find where the platforms are that can provide that service. I know that other corporates are trying to do the same thing. Our experience has been good so far. There is really an appetite in these alternative service providers to try to understand what it is that we are trying to do and then provide the technology to support it.

Alex Novarese: A number of people have talked about technology. Wim, could you talk us through A&O’s experiences here?

Wim Dejonghe: Basically, what you are describing is workflow models through the lifetime of a product. We all have automated drafting, but it is improving quite a bit. The big opportunity is in data mining, not just in due diligence or in litigation, but also in using precedents. We are working hard on that. Then, agile working requires quite a bit of technology as well.

We have got project managers, LPOs, external suppliers, all contributing to improved efficiency, but you need technology and workflows that keep it all together as well. I think that is going to come to all of us as the seamless transition between the portable devices and the office. It is a no-brainer in the next year or two.

Sue Prevezer QC: Do you see a risk of a breakdown in the coherence of law firms, when people are working agilely?

Wim Dejonghe: I do not think the next generation has a problem with it. We do.

Justin Stock: We don’t have a choice. It is going to fragment. It is going to make it difficult to try to create cultures in law firms. It is the pressure from the junior associates, saying: ‘This is the way we want to work from now on.’

Alex Novarese: Associates have said many things they wish were different about working at a law firm, and law firms have roundly ignored them for probably hundreds of years. Why is this different?

Justin Stock: There is absolutely a cultural shift.

Oliver Brettle: That gets straight into the issue, which is how you keep the coherence of the firm. You have got the clients for the top firms wanting more partner attention. You have then got technology, which leads to more agile working. However, that can lead to a real danger, for us, as the law firm leaders. Are we happy for the partners to continue to do all the interesting work, and use agile working as an excuse just to give the associates bits and bobs, without showing the career track that people still generally want to see? How do you reconcile that?

Sue Prevezer QC: The technology is also incredibly intrusive. It means that maintaining a lifestyle balance is difficult unless you are very disciplined, because anywhere, anytime, you are available by this technology.

Justin Stock: To date, technology has actually made us work much harder. Clients now expect you to be available much more than they did 20 years ago. When there was no word processing, you did not amend a document very much, because it is going to take you hours to retype the entire page. Now, people think there is a way to utilise it to actually reduce their overall hours. I know it aids greatly on individual projects and getting work product to clients more efficiently, but I am not sure that is true for overall work hours of lawyers in private practice, but that is what they believe.

Wim Dejonghe: Our generation tries to segregate both. I have got 20 to 25-year old children. They do not segregate.

Logan Mair: I was with a couple of our longstanding partners yesterday discussing the proposed configuration of our new offices. They were very much in favour of a traditional office layout, saying you needed ‘peace and quiet to work’. Another partner made the point that their daughter had recently had work experience in such an environment and was placed in a two-person office. Her reaction was how odd it felt when she was used to an open-plan studying and social environment. Younger lawyers are used to integrating with people all the time. Suddenly, they are shoved into this little box room. My strong preference is that we fit out the office of the future, not a relic to the past!

Natasha Harrison: The issue I struggle with is the ‘I don’t want to work long hours.’ I do not believe in facetime. ‘If it is quiet, get out of here. See your family; see your friends.’ However, long hours are often client or matter-led and unavoidable.

Alex Novarese: Nick, are younger lawyers genuinely different, or are they just young and annoying?

Nick Shilton: They are genuinely very different. The attitude now of associates at the junior end of the profession and the percentage that aspire towards partnership at a major law firm is way lower than when I started out. We have in-house consultants who are acting day-to-day for junior, mid-level and senior associates who are very interested in moving in-house to join major corporates or banks. These associates will say: ‘Do not try to sell me any other law firm. I don’t care how different you tell me US firm x is to Magic Circle y to West End firm z. There is no way on God’s earth I will consider another law firm.’ There have always been a few of those, but the percentage has increased considerably.

We see an increasing exodus from private practice. There are more associates who are disenfranchised, and there are partners who are increasingly disenfranchised. We ran an advert for a Premier League club a couple of years ago. There were partners out of major international law firms who applied to be its first lawyer, and were prepared to cut their comp by 60% to 80%. Discontent is now rife among partners as well as associates.

Alex Novarese: How much of this is because it is so much harder to make partner?

Nick Shilton: Some of it is about different attitudes. I trained at Linklaters years ago, and I recently went to a 20-year anniversary reunion. I was in an intake of about 45 trainees, of whom two are now relatively senior Linklaters partners. What was more striking among the people who attended this reunion, was how many had left the law completely.

There are so many who look at their peers or look at people ahead of them and think: ‘That is not actually what I want to do.’ There are an awful lot who go in thinking: ‘It will give me good training for a few years, but I will use it as a jumping-off point to something else.’

Mark Poulton: I would not necessarily say that the fact that a lot of associates will grow up within Magic Circle firms and move on is a threat. A lot of people who have moved on within the industry and away from private practice will regard Magic Circle firms and others as their alma mater, and that is a strength.

Jason Glover: Law firms are being very smart about it. Clifford Chance even extends its alumni programme to competitors like myself. Actually, if you look at the effort that Clifford Chance has committed to its alumni programme, it is phenomenal and I suspect that it is generating significant opportunities as well.

Nigel Boardman: Part of this is about how you treat your staff. As you get a more centralised management system, it is very difficult to keep the humanity. If we can do that more as firms, and make partners also feel more committed, and get more fun out of it, and not feel that they have got the billable hour ticking away in the background, but that they can make decisions about how they want to run their practice and their life, it makes a big, big difference. It is the most important single thing.

Alex Novarese: A number of people have mentioned changing attitudes and more flexibility. It seems there is only so far you can go with the partnership model.

Mark Rigotti: When I became a lawyer, there was pretty much a perceived good path, and then there was the ‘rest’. There was a tournament on the way and if you got through the tournament, you became a partner. I do not think that is the path for the future. People are looking to us to provide some solutions, which could be within the firm or outside. It is not a bad thing to have people move into good things. The industry should be a leadership factory for a whole range of different roles.

Jason Glover: The solution is there. It comes down to providing a value-add service. Profitability increased through the last 20 years for a whole range of reasons, but one of the primary reasons was an increase in chargeable hours worked. We perhaps need to step back.

It is very clichéd, but we need to work smarter, and actually focus our attentions on generating revenues through value-add, and actually working less hard, ultimately.

Alex Novarese: Is that just not just baked into the cake at this level of remuneration?

Tamara Box: I was about to say that. If you are going to go down that road, then you have to address the fact that we all get paid an awful lot...

Jason Glover: That is the fundamental problem, the assumption that revenue is driven purely from number of hours worked. If firms actually stopped and looked at how much revenue was lost through poor recovery rates, then they might realise that there are lots of ways that profitability can be retained without having to work as hard.

Mark Poulton: Our clients want less volume from us. In the M&A field, there is less volume of due diligence, more acumen applied to due diligence, less verification, and more management challenge. It is less volume, more value, and more thinking time. More of the good stuff, which is good for all of us.

Alex Novarese: Does a lot of this not imply that many big law firms should get rid of about a third of what they currently do, or structure those operations differently?

Mark Poulton: If you look at the larger law firms today compared to a few years ago, you might be surprised how much leaner they are.

Logan Mair: Our third biggest office at the end of the year will be Glasgow.

Wim Dejonghe: Our second biggest office is Belfast.

Sue Prevezer QC: Our clients are not interested in billable hours. They are interested in you doing the best job for them as efficiently and properly as possible.

Alex Novarese: I appreciate it’s part of the brand that you keep frills low, but Quinn is a staggeringly profitable firm. Do the clients never mention that?

Sue Prevezer QC: In almost every case we do, there is a debate with the client. We negotiate fees. In the States, we do a significant amount of contingency fee work, where we take ‘skin in the game’, which is hugely attractive to clients, who want to know that we are taking the risk with them. That accounts for part of our profitability. It is not about, and has never been about, doing billable hours.

Tamara Box: The problem is we still measure ourselves against the billable hour, because it is built into our business model. We struggle with it, but we always use that as our benchmark. In a simple reality, it keeps us from being sensible about value add.

Mark Wagner: I am yet to see an actual [lateral partner recruitment] questionnaire that does not have: ‘What are your billable hours?’ Every year, how many internal partner remuneration or annual reviews do not talk about billable hours?

Alex Novarese: Rosemary, do you see firms working smarter?

Rosemary Martin: Yes, some firms work smarter. They are, without doubt, far more valuable to the client. It is still quite striking how much time we spend shortening the information we get from law firms. Some partners are just brilliant at being able to take a risk on behalf of the client and cut to the heart of the matter. Others seem to think the best thing to do is to extensively set out the pros and cons, and then the client can make up their mind. For many clients that is really not very helpful. Sometimes you do want that very cautious view. Very often you do not. The law firms do not ask you which version you would like.

Alex Novarese: What hope is there for other clients if a company the size of Vodafone still has to nag the firms to shorten the advice?

Rosemary Martin: When lawyers come from private practice into our in-house environment, they are often surprised at how many risks they have to take, and how fast they have to work. They have to be smart, because they have no choice.

Oliver Brettle: You have to also look at your culture. If it is a very heavily managed one, there is a tendency for the lawyers to think, ‘I had better make sure that I cover myself with lengthy advice’, which the clients do not want.

What you need to try to do is encourage independence of thought, with the management being kept down to the necessary level.

It used to be the case that the more junior the lawyer, the longer the memo. Unfortunately, sometimes, if you have got your management wrong, actually the memos can start going the wrong way higher up the tree as well. No wonder the associates do not feel independent. They do not feel able to make judgement calls. Culture is something that we neglect at our peril.

Alex Novarese: If I had looked ten years ago, I would have expected the global corporatised law firm to have had more momentum by 2015 than has been the case.

Oliver Brettle: If you are going to be partner-driven and focus on the top-end work, then, yes, the partnership model, albeit on a global scale can work very well. One thing that nobody has mentioned around this table so far is the accountancy firms, and whether or not, in ten years’ time, they will have snaffled the commoditised work.

Jason Glover: No. We were here in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the accountancy firms. It has never really happened.

Nick Shilton: We see lawyers very nervous about going to accountancy firms and being second or third-class citizens, irrespective of the reach, the client base, and other factors.

Tamara Box: I guess the question is also the other way around. If they are not going to get it right, are we going to get it right by pulling some of the things they offer into our model? We are also trying to be better, different, business advisers. The question is: why are we not hiring a few more accountants and consultants?

Mark Rigotti: It almost does not matter if [accountancy-tied law firms] succeed or not. They will force us to change, or innovate, when we might not otherwise do so.

Alex Novarese: I do not disagree with that. The modern Magic Circle through the 1990s was shaped by the threat of the accountants attacking law. That galvanised a huge change.

Moving on, I am surprised that leading London firms have not sought to Anglo-Americanise their business further. I do not really see in the long term how you can have London’s big four Magic Circle firms without a materially stronger American practice if you believe a global elite will emerge.

Wim Dejonghe: I would agree with that, except that there is a tendency to overblow the American progress in the UK, and underestimate the European progress in the US.

Alex Novarese: Really?

Wim Dejonghe: Look at the numbers. How many English-qualified partners do American firms have across the world? How many US-qualified partners do the English firms have across the world? It is not that big a gap.

Jason Glover: But to be regarded as successful you are also looking at two things: profitability and reputation and in particular ensuring that your own brand is not diluted simply by building out an office network.

Wim Dejonghe: I agree you need a US and UK capability. Obviously, there are macroeconomic trends that you do not control. European banks globally have basically retrenched. You go to South-East Asia or Asia, and there are a lot of regional banks, with a few Americans left. The other big players that have come up are the US funds. They are probably more comfortable with New York law than they are with English law.

Alex Novarese: That is a big issue, is it not?

Wim Dejonghe: That is a big issue. Half of the world’s legal spend is in the US. There is a bigger hurdle to be taken by the European firms than there is for the American firms. Yes, some have succeeded in London. However, I look across Europe, and the Magic Circle is not doing too badly. And if I think about our experience of some of the biggest global financial investigations of global banks by US regulators, I’m happy to be partnering with a US law firm whereby they handle the US component and we advise the bank across the rest of the world.

Alex Novarese: Surely, with the American firms in Europe, three quarters of them can fail, and more of them just come.

Wim Dejonghe: I am a Brussels lawyer. I have seen many firms come and go in Brussels. Who are the leading law firms? It is Linklaters and us in that market. In the Middle East, yes, you see a bit from the American firms. Frankly, the real competitors are the Magic Circle.

If you look at Asia as one market, I do not think the Magic Circle should be ashamed of what it has achieved, including in US legal advice. Yes, there is undeniably success of US firms in London. However, the lack of success of English law firms outside of London or in the US is a bit overblown.

Alex Novarese: What I thought we could do as a rounding-up point is to ask what people think is the biggest asset of elite law firms, the most important thing that they are getting right.

Wim Dejonghe: With all the difficulties we have to recruit, I still think the industry recruits better people than most industries.

Justin Stock: Good law firms are all about the people. We use technology; we use all these things, but it is the people: talent, personality, and teamwork. I do not think that is going to change, either.

Jason Glover: It goes further than that. You can have good people, but it does not necessarily translate to quality of service. If you want to be regarded as an elite law firm, it comes to providing the highest quality of service. That almost by definition reduces the list to a relatively small number.

Oliver Brettle: They also have to be really rooted in the market in which they are practising. There is no point in just having excellent people that you just dump in location x or location y. You just have to make sure that you are tailoring your advice.

Mark Poulton: There has been a lot of talk of the thing being partner-driven. That can be overblown. Our clients are looking for quality at every level, linking in to every level of their organisation.

Logan Mair: We are having this conversation in London. This is a fantastic city to practise law in. For the younger associates and younger partners coming through, I would say it is getting better still, as City law firms take on a greater advisory role and look for efficiencies in the way volume work is delivered. I love what I do, and I think we should talk the profession up, rather than down.

Alex Novarese: Thank you for giving up your time so generously. LB

alex.novarese@legalbusiness.co.uk

 

The Panellists

  • Alex Novarese Editor-in-chief, Legal Business (Chair)
  • Nigel Boardman Partner, Slaughter and May
  • Tamara Box Global chair of the financial industry group and head of structured finance, Reed Smith
  • Oliver Brettle London managing partner, White & Case
  • Wim Dejonghe Global managing partner, Allen & Overy
  • Jason Glover Partner, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  • Natasha Harrison London managing partner, Boies, Schiller & Flexner
  • Jaishree Kalia Senior reporter, Legal Business
  • Logan Mair Partner, Ashurst
  • Rosemary Martin Group general counsel and company secretary, Vodafone
  • Mark Poulton Head of London corporate, Clifford Chance
  • Sue Prevezer QC Chair of the international trial practice, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
  • Mark Rigotti Co-chief executive, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Nick Shilton Chief executive, Shilton Sharpe Quarry
  • Justin Stock London managing partner, Cooley
  • Mark Wagner Director, Shilton Sharpe Quarry