Welcome to the August edition of Byfield Bytes, your monthly update on the biggest stories and issues impacting the business of law.
So much for the quiet month of August—there have been quite a few developments causing a stir in the legal world!
The month started with Dentons announcing it is separating from its Chinese arm, Dacheng, due to the “evolving regulatory environment” in China and the new rules relating to “data privacy, cybersecurity, capital control and governance”. This has developed into quite the trend, and the news soon followed that Latham & Watkins will be shrinking its China presence, closing its Shanghai office and relocating its lawyers to Beijing. All eyes are on whether the stream of firms becomes a flood into the Autumn.
It’s not been the best of months for Dentons, with reports of investigation into potential breaches of money laundering regulations. The SRA is also probing Clyde & Co for allegedly failing to take adequate measures to establish the origin of a former client’s wealth. Questions have been raised recently about the priorities of the regulator in recent times, but compliance for large firms seems to be top of the agenda.
“Billionaires on trial” is also emerging as a bit of a theme. The date for Donald Trump’s election subversion trial has been set, for March 2024, and British businessman Joe Lewis was prosecuted for insider trading in New York – pledging a yacht and private jets for his bail.
Back in the UK, the president of the Law Society and the chair of the Bar Council made a joint statement to condemn senior Conservative politicians who blamed “lefty lawyers” for blocking plans to toughen up the asylum system. They accused politicians of undermining trust in the legal profession and the justice system and warned against fostering a threatening climate for immigration lawyers. This is bad for lawyers everywhere.
With the Autumn around the corner, law firm leaders are coming up with strategies to get people back in the office. While some firms are getting creative with their WFH arrangements and maybe even considering workcations as an option, there has been an overall hardening of attitudes towards working from home in the sector. This is particularly the case with Osborne Clarke and Ropes and Gray, who have decided to link bonuses to the number of days lawyers spend in the office.
With junior lawyers often expecting flexible working patterns and many senior partners demanding a return to pre-covid office attendance, (with lengthy, expensive leases at the back of minds), striking a balance is proving to be quite the headache. Byfield conducted a LinkedIn poll asking its audience how much compulsory in-office time is acceptable. With 1-2 days being the most popular choice, there may be a gap between what law firm leaders want and what lawyers expect and this may lead to some friction.
Finally, firms will have to think carefully about the repercussions of Freshfields’ bold decision not to release its financials going forward. Everyone will be paying close attention to the coverage Freshfields will get in the September financials round ups…
The biggest spotlight in September will undoubtedly be on the A&O and Shearman merger. It is still not clear exactly when the vote will happen, but it is certain to set a precedent for blockbuster tie-ups. Look out for more speculation about the next two big firms to enter marriage negotiations.
Big Questions for September
- After Dentons and Latham & Watkins’ announcements, will we see more firms pulling out from China?
- With a new cohort of trainees joining, what can firms do to help the covid generation adapt to the workplace?
- How can law firm leaders strike a balance between bringing people back to the office and meeting staff expectations regarding flexibility?
- With the press focus intensifying on the A&O and Shearman merger, how should firms handle media speculation regarding potential mergers?
- With the market for candidates hotting up, how do you ensure retention to prevent vacancies in the first place?
Post of the Month
Renato Mariotti, Partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner:
Lawyer Quote of the Month
Nick Vineall KC, Chair of the Bar Council, and Lubna Shuja, President of the Law Society:
“No lawyer should be criticised, or made the subject of a targeted campaign, for doing their job. Everyone is entitled to legal representation, and it is a United Nations basic principle that lawyers should not be identified with the causes of their clients as a result of representing them.
It is wrong to describe lawyers as ‘lefty’ or ‘activist’ simply on the basis of the causes they advocate on behalf of their clients. Lawyers who represent their clients are not only doing nothing wrong, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in playing their part in ensuring that the rule of law is upheld”
- In our latest episode of Counsel Culture, Meg Tillay is joined by Eric Staal, Vice President of Lex Mundi’s Global Markets team, to discuss the use of AI in in-house teams, the ESG considerations keeping GCs up at night and the future of the billable hour.
- Associate Director Bethaney Durkin joined me to share some of our thoughts on communications strategies and pitfalls for law firm mergers in our contribution to Law360’s Expert Analysis series. You can read the article here.
- I will be chairing a PRCA panel about ‘What do journalists want from legal PR professionals?’ on 21st September from 8:30-9:30am. Other panel members include co-chair Leor Franks and speakers, Rose Walker, Rachel Moloney and James Booth from Bloomberg Tax, The Lawyer and Financial News respectively. Click here to find out more and sign up to the event.
Here’s a few you might have missed…
- Account Manager Jessica Hancock addressed the reputational impacts of the recent allegations made against musician Lizzo in our latest blog post.
- Earlier in the month, Digital Marketing Assistant Sean Cullen outlined the benefits of Google Analytics 4 and why so many firms are using it within their digital strategy.
- In our first two Counsel Culture episodes of the month, Joint Managing Director Michael Evans sat down with Meg to discuss the latest Supreme Court judgment on litigation funding and the latest WFH arrangements in Big Law.
- As Counsel Culture host Meg took a well deserved break, Senior Account Executive Hattie Lunt and I stepped in to explore the three biggest themes for the Autumn.