The Lawyer’s new China Elite report contains the most detailed research available on the PRC legal market and contains unparalleled insight into the country's leading law firms. They vary in size, practice focus and geographic coverage, but they all share one common quality – ambition... Read more
This year, The Lawyer’s annual ranking of the largest UK law firms by turnover is available as an interactive, digital benchmarking tool. For the first time this will allow you to manipulate each data set against the metrics of your choice.
In a typically provocative opinion piece this week, Mark Brandon muses on the research by US consultant Bruce MacEwen, which finds (and I paraphrase) that fiddling around with financial levers does not lead to increased performance. Brandon rightly argues that tinkering with metrics is not the path to success. It’s knowing who you are and what you do: culture and identity.
I wonder whether barristers’ chambers will soon be asking those corporate questions of themselves. Our lead analysis this week, which is part of our wider research for The Lawyer UK 200, reveals the financials for the top 30 sets and investigates the growing segmentation of the bar. The financial picture is healthy, but in brand terms we are not yet at the stage where sets of chambers have recognisable cultures outside the Inns. Most lawyers know what a Freshfields partner is going to be like before they meet them; the same goes for Mishcons, Burges Salmon or Burness Paull, but you can’t necessarily say that about the bar. How different, really, is a Brick Court barrister from a Blackstone barrister?
The traditional talent pool in which the bar fishes – Oxbridge and private school, according to a recent Bar Council survey – shows that it is likely that barristers in the top sets are socially and behaviourally more similar to one another than are solicitors in the large law firms with their wider graduate recruitment nets. (I exaggerate: Matrix, for example, has a marginally more rock ‘n’ roll culture than Fountain Court.)
Corporate differentials may nevertheless start emerging, particularly if segmented labels stick. Are Monckton and 3 Verulam Buildings members of a mini-silver circle in their compact size and focus on high-end work? Will the magic circle – Brick Court, Fountain Court, Essex Court and One Essex – let Blackstone in? You can take the analogies further. Is No5 Chambers a bit like Irwin Mitchell? Are 11 KBW, 39 Essex Street and Outer Temple like the national firms, with their wide reach and varied practices?
Although the much-vaunted advocacy units at Herbert Smith Freehills and Eversheds have barely dented the bar’s revenues, the bar is facing threats from different legal models. And the squeezed middle feels like an uncomfortable place to be. It will be interesting to see how inventive the bar will be over the next five years.
The Lawyer is taking a break from print until September, but will continue to publish digitally. Have a good summer.