Promotions figures indicate bleak times

The general downward trend – at least in the UK – highlighted in this week’s partnership promotions feature didn’t obscure some major changes dotted throughout the annual rounds.

Matt Byrne

No corporate partners made up at Travers; Ashurst now has more partners outside than inside the UK; and the first crop of Bond Dickinson freshers, with twice as many coming from legacy Bond Pearce as Dickie Dees.

However, quirky details aside, the picture is pretty depressing, particularly for junior lawyers. Add in the analysis piece on pages 10 and 11 detailing the redundancies sweeping the UK legal market and it becomes downright gloomy.

The big news last week was that Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), one of the UK’s most expansionist firms and one that for years has embraced hefty pay guarantees for partner laterals, has kicked off a redundancy programme that will affect up to 100 lawyers and staff.

But BLP is hardly alone. The traditional legal model is utterly changed from a decade ago. As more firms adopt new procedures and novel ways of delivering services in the push for lower costs and yet more aggressive pricing, the traditional pyramid model will erode even further.

As Joanne Harris points out in her redundancies analysis, “whereas in 2009 everyone hoped things would soon get better, firms are now adjusting for a new reality in which price pressure is a fact of life and lawyer supply has to be addressed”.

Is it a coincidence that the small group of firms to have reported their 2012/13 financials, including Mishcon and Weightmans, have posted improved results? We can hardly wait for the rest.

All this is not great news for anyone entering a profession that now truly is a business like any other, whatever the old guard at the top of the equity might say.

Still, some things don’t change. Check out the report on page 12 on the auction of internships and associated leg-up for the monied classes.

The jobs market may be brutal and the legal market atrophying, but for those with a few quid to spare there will always be a way.