Linklaters

Be careful what you write when you’re young and idealistic.

In 2003, David Wolfe, a lawyer who works alongside Cherie Blair at top London human rights shop Matrix Chambers, decided he was unhappy with the way the British legal hierarchy works. So he co-signed an open letter criticising the Queen’s Counsel (QC) system –- a process that sees a handful of barristers (British trial lawyers) promoted to the elite QC rank each year, enabling them to charge clients more money. “The QC system cannot be justified as being in the public interest or promoting competition,” the letter stated.

Nine years on, and last week Wolfe found himself made up to QC — an honour which, despite the name, involves no input from the Queen or her family members. He didn’t decline. Indeed, all QCs have to actively apply in order to gain the title. Unfortunately for Wolfe, someone mentioned his youthful letter to RollOnFriday, a widely read U.K. legal blog.

When contacted about the letter, Wolfe responded….

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Only God can save you now, James. Not sure if he's interested, though.

It might have seemed impossible, but things have gotten worse for those involved in the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

In addition to all the other evidence against the now defunct newspaper, which was run by James Murdoch, the son of everyone’s favorite terrifying Australian media baron, new email evidence — that investigators literally pulled out of a box in an abandoned office — indicates that the younger Murdoch should have known exactly what was going on.

This isn’t a smoking gun e-mail. It’s a smoking gun, fingerprints, and well-fit glove…

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What happens when you put thirty American lawyers in a London pub where the drinks are free for the evening? Well, let’s just say it’s rather different to what happens when thirty British lawyers are assembled in equivalent conditions.

The attendees at last week’s inaugural Benedict Arnold Society meeting for young and young-ish American lawyers in the United Kingdom, held at the Witness Box pub in the heart of London’s legal district, were impeccably behaved. No one collapsed, vomited or — in spite of my continual prying for insider information — gave away a single secret about their firms. In fact, I think I was the only one there who was drunk.

Still, my memories of at least the first part of the evening remain. What stood out was how nicely many of the assembled Yank expats had done by coming to London — be it because they had saved money on legal education costs, were enjoying heightened status due to their willingness to travel, or were appreciating the health-inducing lighter U.K. workloads.

Several had undertaken their legal studies in the U.K., thus circumventing the enormous fees charged by U.S. law schools….

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A few months ago, one of the public relations staff at Linklaters invited me to have lunch with him in the firm’s canteen. Now, I know that if I was a client, or even a journalist of greater rank, my PR acquaintance would have probably deemed me worthy of a trip to a restaurant on the expenses account. But, hey, times are tough, so I didn’t hold it against him. And in any case, I was curious to see what a Biglaw canteen looked like.

To my surprise, it looked a lot like a school canteen. A super-deluxe school canteen, you understand, with all sorts of fancy food options, and tasteful decor, and wholesome-looking — if oddly mature — students. Having finished my generous portion of chicken curry, side salad and smoothie, I relaxed back in my chair and, looking around me, wondered how those Linklaters people stayed so slim. Then I remembered the on-site gym I’d read about somewhere, which, I assume, nestles alongside the on-site doctor, dentist, physiotherapist and dry-cleaners, deep within Linklaters’ lovely womb-like central London offices.

In that moment, I wanted to never leave. It all just felt so… safe. But was it?

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(Layoffs at Linklaters, at the partner level.)

“Privacy is for paedos,” announced tabloid journalist Paul McMullan, formerly of Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct British tabloid News of the World, while speaking last week at an enquiry set up in response to this summer’s phone hacking scandal. Firmly unapologetic for having harassed celebrities via an impressive range of mediums, McMullan continued: “Fundamentally, no one else needs it. Privacy is evil.” He fast became the villain of what the Financial Times has dubbed as “the best free show in London.”

As for the heroes, well, none of the celebrities who have given evidence so far — including Divine Brown blow jobee Hugh Grant, comedian Steve Coogan, author JK Rowling, and Tony Blair’s former press secretary Alastair Campbell — have shone particularly. Most of the army of lawyers in attendance, meanwhile, have been, well, lawyerly.

Notably, one junior lawyer at the enquiry, Carine Patry Hoskins, did steal the show for a few hours last month, albeit on account of her good looks rather than any show of heroism, when she became one of the world’s most popular topics on Twitter during the Hugh Grant’s testimony. Having caught the attention of Tweeters, the attractive brunette was given the hashtag #womanontheleft — which quickly shot to most read thread in the U.K., before trending prominently worldwide….

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The Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards ceremony, held in London last Wednesday, was most notable for the contrast between the puppy-like excitement of the lawyer nominees and the auto-pilot professionalism of the host, FT editor Lionel Barber, whose aura was of a man who’d rather be at home watching TV.

This was a shame, not only for the confused lawyers struggling to understand why Barber wasn’t high-fiving them as they collected their trophies, but because it overshadowed the setting of a world record. Never before has the adjective “innovative” — or its derivations “innovate,” “innovation,” and “innovator” — been used with such frequency in a single evening.

Between them, these four words featured in 14 of the 15 award names, peppered the subsequent acceptance speeches, dominated the copy of the awards brochure, and strangled the dinner conversation. Hypnotised by the repetition, I was convinced by the end that lawyers could see the future and were responsible for all of the great achievements of humankind.

However, having regained my sense of reality during the Tube ride home, it slowly dawned on me that most of the innovation I’d spent the last five hours being bombarded with wasn’t innovation at all, but simply lawyers doing their jobs. The “innovation in corporate law” award, for example, went to two law firms which acted on a merger, and the “innovation in dispute resolution” prize was given to a firm that won a case.

At other times, “innovation” was employed as a euphemism for not especially original ways to cut jobs….

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It takes a while to get over squandering an empire. As our habit of placing the prefix “Great” before “Britain” suggests, we’re still not quite there yet. But deep down we know we blew it. The evidence is everywhere: from our dentists, who don’t really know what they’re doing anymore, to our universities, which are crumbling, just like our schools, hospitals, and public transport.

Somehow, though, the U.K’s legal system has avoided being dragged into this spiral of decline. Yes, we’re still good at law — so good, in fact, that London is the top destination in the world for international companies to settle disputes, and English law the most popular among international in-house counsel (40% use it, with just 14% opting for New York law). And, in spite of the relatively tiny size of the British domestic legal market, our law firms manage to give yours a run for their money, with the Magic Circle quartet of Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields and A&O outdoing most of their U.S. rivals in terms of turnover and profits.

Doubtless part of this success stems from the fact that Britain is the home of the Common Law, which, unless some joker on Wikipedia is deceiving me, was invented around the 1150s by King Henry II. And as we saw during the April nuptials between Prince William and his bride Kate, our “Ye Olde Ingland” nostalgia sells very nicely to foreigners….

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Ed. note: Welcome to Letter from London, a weekly look at the U.K. legal world by our London correspondent, Alex Aldridge. Alex previously covered the London riots and the royal wedding for Above the Law.

“Thank God” Britain didn’t join the Euro, said U.K. chancellor George Osborne last month, as the debt crisis in Greece began to spread to the much larger economies of Italy and Spain. But with the fortunes of the U.K. tightly bound to the rest of Europe (its biggest trading partner), the reality is that we’ll be hit almost as hard as our single currency-sharing neighbours if, as many expect, the crisis worsens.

Last week, as I did the rounds of the U.S. law firms in London in preparation for the commencement of these regular installments from across the pond, I asked various managing partners what European debt contagion would mean for large law firms in the U.K. And, predictably, they reeled off the standard recession line about law firms being “well placed to handle the anticipated wave of restructuring work.”

Doubtless there’s some truth to this. Indeed, Skadden and Linklaters are already riding the wave, with the pair currently advising on the merger between Greece’s second- and third-largest banks. Such are the demands of the deal that much of Skadden’s relatively small London office has apparently been required to temporarily decamp to Athens.

The worry is what happens after the restructuring is complete, with experts predicting that Eurozone sovereign debt defaults could precipitate a decade-long depression. This would be especially bad for the legal profession….

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* And finally, a law student sues a law school for its allegedly misleading post-graduate employment information. [Law School Transparency]

* A “leading business lawyer in Germany,” reportedly a partner at Linklaters, allegedly attempts to evade paying taxes on his new lederhosen. Now is the time on Spockets when we dance. [Roll on Friday]

* Score one for anonymous emails! [Law & Technology]

Paul Simon

* DSK gears up to blame the victim. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Female lawyers arguing over women having children and taking maternity leave. I think I’m going to read this post, go with my boys to see The Hangover 2, and then hit up Rick’s. [Vault]

* First-time Tennessee bar exam takers who graduated from the University of Memphis Law School passed the bar. All of them. As Successful Troll might say, congratulations to all of the soon-to-be-employed Memphis Law grads! [The Commercial Appeal]

* A patent attorney from Drinker Biddle helps Paul Simon out with a song. [Reliable Source / Washington Post]

* Deporting immigrant same-sex partners is just cruel. [In The Arena / CNN]

This is a little bit surprising. Not that Linklaters matched spring bonuses. We’re getting to the point that pretty much every firm that wants to be taken seriously is going to have to match spring bonuses.

No, the weird thing is that Linklaters matched the lower level of spring bonuses set by Sullivan & Cromwell, not the more generous spring bonuses adopted by Cravath (and the many firms that have rushed to join them).

Does that strike anybody else as strange? Why get into the spring bonus game at all if you can’t afford the extra thousands of dollars it takes to make a market level payment?

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