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You’re an in-house lawyer outside London. Your usual external law firm is spending less time on you but wants to bill you more. You read in The Lawyer that it’s now focused on the big prize of the City market. How do you feel?
Dumped, probably. Very few have cracked the trick of balancing the expectations of London and regional clients at the same time. Wragges’ targeting of London through its talks with Lawrence Graham is a tacit admission that it is now simply too big to be so Birmingham-centric, but you can bet that a good number of its partners are scurrying around trying to convince their West Midlands clients that this won’t affect their relationship, truly.
The notion of moving up the food chain is all very well in theory, but it has given rise to problems in terms of service priorities. It’s also an implicit insult – in-house lawyers at medium-sized businesses do not consider themselves to be plankton but law firms insist on using the food chain phrase regardless.
So who’s moving into the space vacated by the national players? With SMEs and mid-tier businesses mistrustful of what they see as banks’ cynical lending (or non-lending) practices, there’s never been a better time for regional firms without City ambitions to play the relationships card. This ought to be a sweet spot for the lower mid-tier regional firms that don’t secretly dream of being Wachtell. Shakespeares is trying to do it through acquisitions, while Gordons, Knights, Bond Dickinson and Gateley – to pick four other examples entirely at random – all comfortably inhabit this space. One would hope that this is what is behind the startling three-way merger discussions between Blake Lapthorn, Morgan Cole and Boyes Turner. In theory this ought to produce a powerhouse serving the triangle between Southampton, Reading and Cardiff, but in reality it simply looks defensive (you can check out the three firms’ figures, including property costs and three-year financial performance, at thelawyer.com/uk200). So far, the Blake Cole Turner client proposition has not been voiced.
All those smaller regional clients that DLA Piper and others are sloughing off have to go somewhere, and they’re not likely to want to go to another national/international firm. There is a serious opportunity for regional firms that can actually cultivate a modern legal services market outside London. It’s a shame that none of them has yet caught the national imagination.