Welcome back to the Fides Weekly Update. Here we provide you with the key news, trends and developments in legal and compliance. Scroll down to see the Movers & Shakers of the week.
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1) Battle of the Brands
Wednesday saw the annual release of The Acritas UK Law Firm Brand Index, with Eversheds retaining the top spot for the third year running ahead of DLA Piper and Pinsent Masons.
The most comprehensive annual study of the global legal market, the Sharplegal survey canvasses over 2,400 senior buyers of legal services from across the globe to track how legal buyers select law firms and highlight those law firms winning, and losing, brand equity.
As such, the brand index works as a definitive guide as to which UK legal brands are strongest in the eyes of buyers. Rather than being a reflection of technical competence alone, it reveals which firms are prevalent in the client’s minds, whom they are most attracted to and whom they are most likely to give their work.
Eversheds continues to hold a strong position at the top of the UK brand index, being ranked by legal purchasers as first for mind awareness and favourability. This was particularly the case amongst female clients, with the firm’s ability to offer innovative pricing models having a greater appeal amongst this group. Second-place DLA was this year’s star performer, rising 22 points and 4 ranks on the index from last year and being used most by survey respondents for high value work.
Meanwhile, Slaughter and May came in as the second most improved firm, rising from 7th to 4th place on the brand index and overtaking Magic Circle rivals Clifford Chance (5th), Linklaters (6th) and Freshfields (7th). In fact, Slaughters are the only Magic Circle firm to hold a steady position in the UK market since the survey’s inception, with all other Magic Circle firms loosing brand equity nationally since 2012. Despite this, when the data is split down for London the brand index reveals a very Magic Circle dominated affair, with Clifford Chance ranked top followed by Freshfields and Slaughters.
With the average client working with 20 or more law firms at any given time – and marketed to by many more – the findings of the Acritas brand index are important in understanding what can give law firms a competitive advantage in a market that is fragmented, dynamic and constantly changing.
How the index changes over time is a reflection of which firms are doing a better job of making and maintaining a meaningful impression with clients through experience, relationship development and taking an approach to market that really aligns with clients’ goals and needs.
This year’s results show that firms that honestly assess their practice strengths and align themselves to specific client needs are more likely to be favoured by top UK legal clients. This shows that, like it or not, a cohesive and impressionable brand is an essential strategic tool for UK law firms to maintain their standing in the marketplace.
2) RSA on the Road to Recovery
Quarterly earnings have been coming in hard and fast this week, with HSBC, Shell and SocGen all releasing their financial results. RSA in particular shook up the markets, as their promising results caused a boost in the FTSE 100 Index of 0.3 per cent.
The insurance group beat analysts’ forecasts this year by reporting an operating profit of £548m, up 5 per cent from 2015, and a 2 per cent rise in UK and Irish sales, allowing a solid revenue of £1.57bn for the first quarter of the year.
Such a good start to the year can be attributed to the major internal restructuring, as RSA dispose of a number of overseas businesses, particularly those in Latin America, and reduce their presence from 47 countries down to 12. The company continues to implement it’s cost-cutting programme and has recently completed further sales of its Chile and Argentina businesses.
Concentrating on their most profitable businesses in the UK and Ireland, Canada and Scandinavia is paying off for the insurance company, highlighting their resilience after the abandoned £5.6bn takeover bid with Zurich Insurance last summer. Since then, their share prices are recovering and profits are ahead of expectations.
Chief executive Stephen Hester said RSA’s improvement comes down to changes made on a granular level, by improving their underwriting performance and core business units. He says businesses “have to stop relying on top line growth and instead become more efficient, much as manufacturers did in the 1970s and ’80s.”
Hester also spent £480,000 of his own money in acquiring company shares, a move that demonstrates his confidence in their self-improvement measures and new business model.
Despite rough markets, RSA have delivered encouraging results for the first quarter. However, it will difficult to assess the sustainability of this as cost-cutting cannot be a long-term strategy and insurance markets remain as competitive as ever. Nonetheless, analysts seem hopeful and earnings per share have been tipped to almost triple in 2017.
Movers & Shakers of the Week
Private equity partner David Holdsworth and tax partner Tim Lowe are the latest partners to join Kirkland & Ellis from Linklaters
General counsel Anja Van Bergen has left Nutreco to join Nomad Foods after the firm acquired €2.6bn company Iglo.
Taylor Wessing has hired former Reed Smith partner Angus Finnegan as new head of the firm’s UK communications group
Competition partner Michael Esser has joined Latham & Watkins’ Düsseldorf office from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Germany.
White & Case have hired Ashurst’s London head of disputes Mark Clarke, only two weeks after bringing in former Ashurst equity capital markets partner Jonathan Parry.
Senior corporate partner Sönke Becker joins Herbert Smill Freehills’ corporate team In Düsseldorf, exiting Baker & McKenzie, where his previous roles included chair of the firm’s EMEA M&A practice and prior to that, German corporate practice co-head until 2014
A US securities team from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom joins Allen & Overy in Australia, after Skadden confirmed it was closing its Sydney offices. Partner Mark Leemen makes the move along with counsel Cécile Baume and associate Matthew Lim.
London partner Ashley Hurst is joining Osborne Clarke’s commercial and regulatory disputes team from Olswang, whilst Bristol partner Will Robertson departs Bond Dickinson to join Osborne Clarke’s commercial team, specialising in IT and data protection
Pierre Nicholas-Sanzey has been appointed partner at Stephenson Harwood in Paris to launch a dedicated Paris real estate department. He joins from the Paris office of Herbert Smith Freehills
Watson Farley Williams has hired Dr. Christoph Naumann as a partner. He joins from Norton Rose Fulbright where he served as Of Counsel.