All sorts of factors are converging to make 2008 a particularly fascinating year.
It certainly won’t be comfortable. Mass redundancies on the scale of 1991, or less dramatically 2002, are unlikely to happen, but non-fee-earning staff might feel vulnerable.
It will be interesting to see how new managing or senior partners will cope. Duncan Weston at CMS Cameron McKenna, Simon Davies at Linklaters, Hugh Maule at LG and Charles Martin at Macfarlanes (plus whoever succeeds Guy Beringer at A&O) are all kicking off their stints at the beginning of a downturn.
Because so much of City firms’ self-esteem is bound up with PEP performance, there will have to be robust management of expectations.
The slowdown on AIM and the FTSE250 will affect domestic firms such as Addleshaws and BLP in the medium term.
Their momentum will shield them from trouble, but I suspect they will spend lots of management time this year stroking overseas best friends.
Meanwhile, I rather fancy Eversheds to do well in 2008, because its one-size-fits-all Dupont model of partnering in-house departments is starting to shape the market.
The ructions at Mayer Brown will continue to attract attention, in the same way that Freshfields’ wholesale restructure dominated 2007.
An underfancied stock might also be Denton Wilde Sapte. I don’t foresee a huge pickup in partner profits, but it is one of the few firms that might work rather better in the recession.
This isn’t just because of its restructuring pedigree, which has been supplanted by the larger firms, but its focus on the Middle East and Africa may well start to come good – so long as it can protect itself from any more raids from competitors.
2008 will be particularly interesting for in-house lawyers struggling to come to terms with the Akzo Nobel ruling on privilege.
And this year will see the emergence of law as an asset class – both in terms of litigation funding and the prospect of post-Clementi outside investment.
With that, the newly sexy volume firms are going to have to practise speaking to the outside world to communicate their brands and services.
I’d counsel a spot of communication coaching to Irwin Mitchell, which is light years behind Russell Jones & Walker in this regard. We live in hope.