Did the ground shift for you too?

What a year. 2012 was the moment when so many predictions started to be realised. Just consider the following:

Catrin Griffiths

What a year. 2012 was the moment when so many predictions started to be realised. Just consider the following:

  • That much-forecasted wave of consolidation actually began. This calendar year there were at least 14 mergers or bolt-ons announced featuring firms with more than 20 UK lawyers.
  • Ditto with alternative business structures (ABS), outside investment into law firms and the transformation in consumer legal services; deals this year have come thick and fast, including Parabis, Silverbeck Rymer and Keoghs. Anyone who thinks that outside investment will be confined solely to volume shops is deluded.
  • Litigation, not M&A, is increasingly what powers global law firm strategy. If the clients have got the money, there’s no better place for a legal fight than in an English court.
  • A shift within the global elite. With even Davis Polk & Wardwell succumbing to English law fever, the fact that Slaughter and May has considered laterally hiring US capability is very significant.
  • The move East. Anglo-Saxon law firm hegemony will be hard to dislodge, but King & Wood Mallesons and the extraordinary popularity of Australia deals as an Asia Pacific launchpad point to a less London-centric approach.
  • Full financial mergers are out of favour for global firms. It’s just too difficult to police the outer borders of the empire when you’re turning over a billion. The Herbert Smith Freehills deal will be seen as increasingly unusual; where Norton Rose and CMS led, Linklaters is now following. All the old anxieties about quality control and brand have been stifled in favour of simple heft.
  • Hubris is alive and well; see the Dewey collapse, something we covered in enormous detail this year. While Dewey was in many ways a special case, a sense of fragility is pervasive in the market.

Finally, thank you for all the fantastic feedback we’ve had about The Lawyer’s print redesign this year. It’s all been about thought leadership; we’ve been able to deal at greater length and complexity with the fundamental issues within the legal market, from pricing and financials and detailed examinations of law firm strategy in a changing world. And I’m delighted to say that there’s more to come; 2013 will see an exciting relaunch of The Lawyer’s online offering that explicitly engages our global audience as we put digital at the heart of our activities. The next print edition is back on 7 January, but TheLawyer.com continues publishing into the new year.

Happy Christmas.