Welcome to the July edition of Byfield Bytes, your monthly update on the biggest stories and issues impacting the business of law.
It’s financial reporting season and firms have been releasing their latest profit and revenue figures for Results have been mixed – while some have posted an increased revenue, many big firms have struggled to keep pace with inflation and have reported a static PEP. What is clear is that, given the UK’s high inflation rate and the lack of deals in the market, firms have not performed as badly as some predicted.
The biggest surprise came from Freshfields who, a day after publishing the strongest results among Magic Circle firms, announced it will stop releasing its financials to the media during reporting season from next year onwards. Will other top-tier firms be following suit?
July also saw the publication of Law.com’s inaugural UK Top 30 Firms by Revenue ranking. It revealed that non-UK firms made up almost half of the largest legal institutions in Britain, showing the strength of US firms in London. We talk about this in depth in our Counsel Culture podcast this week.
The big story in the City this month was the long awaited appointment of the new SFO Director. After Lisa Osofsky’s term – which saw the biggest financial penalty resulting from a corporate conviction in the UK but also some high-profile failures – the SFO chose former MET Police assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave, who will be the first non-lawyer to occupy the post. Ephgrave’s to-do list will include dealing with under-resourcing, addressing recruitment issues, pushing for a disclosure reform and increasing the number of investigations – no pressure then!
In other news, the world’s biggest law firm Dentons is facing the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over allegations that it breached anti-money laundering regulations. With the hearing set to take place later this year, the case will raise important questions about the responsibilities that all firms have in establishing their clients’ source of wealth.
Last week RollonFriday revealed that Osborne Clarke is making it mandatory for staff to attend the office three times a week in order to be eligible for a bonus. This is only the latest in a series of firms ‘encouraging’ a return to the office this year, perhaps signalling Big Law’s move away from the flexible working patterns introduced by Covid.
In addition to rapidly evolving technologies, diversity and inclusion continue to be the key concerns for law firm leaders. Slaughter and May led the way this month by becoming the first major law firm to set social mobility targets. The firm aims to have one quarter of its employees come from a lower socio-economic background by 2033 and has unveiled a new social mobility strategy, the Key Project, to help achieve this.
On the international front, the global legal community joined forces earlier this month to condemn the actions of the Hong Kong police, as it issued HK$1m bounties for the arrest of pro-democracy lawyers. Practitioners across the world expressed their support for the activists and reiterated their commitment to defending the freedom of speech.
Big Questions for August
- Given Osborne Clarke’s recent announcement for a compulsory return to offices 3 days a week to be eligible for bonuses, how should firms think about encouraging their people to come back to the office after the summer break?
- Is there a case for more law firms to suddenly stop reporting their financial results? What would be the consequences?
- August is a good time for in-house teams to rethink their media relations strategy as people are on holiday and not much happens deal-wise, in the courts or in Parliament. What should be at the top of minds to refresh media strategies for September?
- We’re more than halfway through the year. What are each main practices (especially transactions) expecting in terms of trends/changes that are worth conducting media outreach about?
- It’s also a good time to look back at the media challenges faced throughout the year: what worked/didn’t work? How can we get particular teams/partners more engaged in media? What could have been handled better?
Social Media Post of the Month
Lawyer Quote of the Month
Glenn Newberry, Head of Costs and Litigation Funding at Eversheds Sutherland, on the Supreme Court’s ruling in PACCAR Inc & Ors v Competition Appeal Tribunal & Ors, which stated that agreements with third-party litigation funders are damages-based agreements:
“The decision will send shockwaves through the funding industry and may lead to a number of smaller operators going out of business. The decision is potentially a blow for the government as the collective funding of consumer claims has helped bridge the gap caused by the erosion of state funded legal assistance for civil claims. Funders themselves may well start to actively lobby to seek legislation which effectively reverses this decision.”
- Byfield’s Litigation Communications team organised an international press conference in Brussels on behalf of a client involved in a legal dispute. Gus and Meg travelled to Brussels and collaborated with broadcaster specialists, Markettiers and Belgian PR agency Backstage Communications. The conference was a great success, broadcasted to TV stations globally and featuring in over 100 publications worldwide.
- Account manager Meg Tillay has been shortlisted for the PRCA Platinum Awards for Global Rising Star of the year. The awards are designed to recognise and celebrate the very highest standards in global public relations. Congratulations, Meg!
- Joint Managing Director Michael Evans was quoted in The Times in an article exploring the ESG implications of the Farage v Coutts row. Michael’s comments also featured in Bloomberg.
Here’s a few you might have missed…
- Account Executive Oliver Beard wrote a blog where he discussed the impacts of climate-based lawsuits and why it is so important for firms to have a PR strategy in place that highlights genuine concern for the environment and avoids blaming consumers.
- Content strategist Tom Boulton also put together a blog, which explored what content strategy is and why it is so important in a time when modern media is constantly expanding and evolving.
- On this week’s episode of Counsel Culture, Meg was joined by Ben to discuss expected lawyer salary slumps, tattoos in the workplace and Slaughter and May’s new social mobility initiative.
- Meg also sat down with Michael earlier in the month to speak about financials and AI and cybersecurity woes for firms.