The national firm’s decision to ramp up its commodity arm through a joint venture with its South African ally is a fascinating admission that its bulk Legal Systems Group in Cardiff is under sustained pressure to deliver services even more cheaply. Eversheds envisages a model where 80 per cent of this bulk work will eventually go to South Africa and 20 per cent will remain in Cardiff.
Miraculously, this will apparently not result in job cuts – although the firm’s management, which has made 735 redundancies over the past two years, may have to voice that commitment a bit more strenuously to be convincing.
So far you might argue that Eversheds is following the logic of the market. Clients want the low-level stuff done as cheaply as possible, and quite right too; in fact, the more firms that respond to this, the better. But the puzzling thing about this is that, unlike Beachcroft for example, Eversheds is continuing to brand its bulk services as part of its general offering, insisting that clients can distinguish between low- and mid-level work.
Well, yes and no. Clients can tell the difference, but they’re not necessarily comfortable with it. It is a confusing proposition: on the one hand, there’s a swanky London office purporting to do good-quality corporate advisory work, where the product is the people. On the other hnd there’s a bulk division that’s all about volume, where the product is the process. Both have the same names. It’s what most lawyers would view as a dangerously mixed message.
The fact is that the new Eversheds management is hell-bent on building a brand based o price. If you make your reputation for a commodity product you’re going to reinforce dangerous aspects of the brand, which in Eversheds’ case includes a perception of patchy quality.
Apart from Tesco there is virtually no business that has been able to cater for radically different segments of consumers. But Bryan Hughes is not Sir Terry Leahy, and Eversheds is no Tesco: perhaps it should take its model from Primark instead.