17 October 2008
With the credit crunch causing a commotion in the legal world, there’s nothing quite like a holiday in the tabloids to brighten the mood.

With the credit crunch causing a commotion in the legal world, there’s nothing quite like a holiday in the tabloids to brighten the mood.

And so it is that today’s Lawyer News Daily is dedicated to Madonna’s split with husband Guy Ritchie, after the Brit film director failed to justify the love of the material girl (see story).

Payne Hicks Beach‘s Fiona Shackleton, of Macca divorce fame, is to assemble a body of evidence for Madge; while Ritchie is represented by Helen Ward of Manches, who in May secured the UK’s largest divorce settlement by landing GBP’48m for Beverly Charman in her split from tycoon husband John.

Before you start, in seriousness we realise that gloating over other people’s marital break-ups isn’t really on.

But the notion that Guy Ritchie may possibly become Guy Richer isn’t just of interest to low-brow celeb watchers and divorce vultures. By contrast, the split of the couple’s estimated GBP’300m fortune could turn legal history on its head, not only likely to set a new record for Britain’s biggest ever divorce settlement, but making the recipient of that settlement a man.

Doubtless now a little bored of playing the country lady after several years of life in the country with mockney-geezer-turned-squire Ritchie, Madge may soon be departing these fair isles in favour of a return to American Life.

But in her wake, the queen of pop is set to leave a legal legacy that is a landmark not only in family law but in the increased clout of women’s role in British society, if not the Western world’s. That’s The Power of Good-Bye.

India: caste off
16 October 2008

Transatlantic lawyers might consider themselves the world’s elite, but it is partners at India’s top firms that are the world’s richest.

Further down the hierarchy, however, the reality is quite different. And the disparity between the Indian bar’s rich and less rich is causing unrest. Albeit not always in the most predictable places.

As revealed on today, Allen & Overy‘s Indian referral firm, Trilegal, has lost three of its 10 partners, who are setting up an independent firm with a banking partner from Indian firm Kochhar & Co (see story).

Trilegal founding partner Anand Prasad described the trio as “great guys” that he “enjoyed working with” and would “love to still have around.”

“But,” he added, “I guess we were set up as a lockstep system and they probably just wanted to get to the top a lot faster.”

They’re not the only ones. By Indian standards, remuneration at Trilegal is positively egalitarian. And our story in August that Clifford Chance had hired two lawyers from Indian major Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co, a more traditionally-structured Indian firm, elicited a release of pent-up anger from readers (see story).

“Indian firms need to develop their people management skills and realise that they don’t own people,” wrote one. “All these firms are owned by families with three generations working and owning virtually all the equity, so maybe its time to change?”

Another described Indian firms as “run like personal fiefdoms” at which “the family gets the lion’s share of the equity, special treatment; treat other partners and associates terribly and.. appoint family to run the firm.”

All of which leads neatly to ye olde Indian liberalisation debate. India’s richest partners warn international firms that poaching their lawyers will set back liberalisation. But as the lower echelons of India’s legal caste system realise how bad a deal they get, critical mass for change will inevitably build.

As one site poster put it, “all these blackmail tactics ‘you poach from us, we wont allow your firms in India’ wont work after a point.”

Or will they? Log on to join the debate.

CC’s surprising redundancies
15 October 2008

Clifford Chance’s announcement yesterday that it was making 20 lawyers redundant in New York and Washington DC is not the first time lawyers in the US have faced the chop this year (see story).

It’s not even the first time that Clifford Chance lawyers have been made redundant; the firm laid off six structured finance lawyers back in November last year.

What has taken the New York market by surprise, however, is the fact that all 20 lawyers were litigators. Litigators being laid off in a downturn? Can this be true?

CC litigation head Mark Kirsch has been candid about the fact that none of these layoffs is for performance reasons – echoing Greg Markel of Cadwalader, who in The Lawyer Podcast in September argued that firms should be straightforward about layoffs in order not to damage lawyers’ future employment chances. (Listen)

The Clifford Chance redundancies have the shadow of Merrill Lynch hanging over them. When Clifford Chance merged with Rogers & Wells in 2000, R&W was billing over GBP9m to Merrill alone, and virtually all of that was in securities litigation. With Merriill now subsumed into Bank of America, that workflow looks a lot more uncertain.

The news also underlines the point that litigation cannot compensate for a slump in M&A and private equity deals. Even when – as our survey this week showed – magic circle partners are now routinely billing GBP750 per hour (see story). Even those rates can’t save jobs when the work isn’t there.

Nott hanging around
14 October 2008

Our news that Nottingham Law School has split its LPC into two parts might not have blown your skirts up, but it’s bigger than you might first think (see story).

Here’s why.

First, the move allows wannabe lawyers to take a break between modules. That won’t sound like a big deal to students who funded the GBP10k LPC with an interest-free loan from the Bank of Mum & Dad, but for those without a BMD account its a big deal, as it allows far wider access to the profession.

In fact, it’s the same reason that the Bristol Institute of Legal Practice and Central Law Training launched a part-time LPC only last month (see story).

Second, both moves are signs that rather than waiting for the powers that be to finish their review of legal education and training, which has dragged on for almost a decade, some LPC providers have simply lost patience.

What’s more, Nottingham is the postgraduate law school at the heart of that very same long-delayed shake-up of legal education and training.

It was picked to pilot a controversial model proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that will enable paralegals to qualify as solicitors by taking responsibility of their own training and development while working in their current roles.

That even the SRA’s own chosen postgrad law school can’t be bothered to wait for it to finish the review is not a resounding vote of confidence.

Magic realism
13 October 2008

It’s Monday the 13th; 736 UK 200 lawyers have lost their jobs and the credit crunch is turning into something else, so reasons to be cheerful are few on the ground.

Unless of course you’re a partner at a magic circle firm where, as we reveal today, hourly rates are still heading skyward (see story).

As one partner observed, “the trend of rates going up… has slowed,” but the key word there is ‘slowed,’ not stopped – let alone reversed.

This takes place in a context in which, as we also reveal today, City firms are scrambling to offload office space (see story), regional property firms are making their second wave of culls (see story) and more than a fifth of firms have had to lay off staff (see story).

Partners at smaller firms have long claimed that their firm offers magic circle services at more affordable rates.

And in-house lawyers have long complained that the bills conjured up by magic circle firms are unreasonable. With belts tighter than ever, is now the time for in-housers to put their money where their mouth is?