Who'll Collect the Win? 9 Firms Intent on Edging Out Kirkland and Latham

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Who’s next? Kirkland and Latham are in a class by themselves. So, which firms can get even bigger and create a new class? We asked more than 160 law firm marketing leaders and here’s who they think are the next firms to deliver blow-out growth:

DLA Piper and Dentons

These 2 merger-hungry firms lead the list of firms most likely to pass Kirkland and Latham in growth. Law firm leaders expect DLA Piper and Dentons to find new merger partners—and create 2 new, even larger firms to drive unmatched growth. Whether the mergers occur inside or outside the US remains to be seen—but—the competition expects each firm’s next moves to be big and impactful.

Baker McKenzie

The firm is undergoing major changes to bring together its many pieces into a unified growth machine. The firm closed comp, brought in a strong leader to drive client development, and is becoming much more aggressive in its innovation and thought leadership. This is the strongest effort yet to create the uniformity successful law firms need to scale past the current market leaders.

Hogan Lovells

With a collection of global clients which would make any law firm salivate, Hogan Lovells has the existing base to kick off blazing global growth. The firm’s proven experience in serving and managing global clients paired with its superior client service prowess has law firm leaders watching Hogan Lovell’s next steps—very carefully.  

Jones Day

Boasting one of the best brands and the highest levels of client service, Jones Day is positioned to leapfrog the market leaders. The firm brings one of the strongest cultures of strategic discipline and uniformity across the globe. The partners understand and believe in the firm’s strategy—and the changes in strategy as market demands change. Jones Day understands the legal world is all about its clients—and knows their clients better than most others. All this adds up to outsized growth waiting to happen.

Morgan Lewis

Morgan Lewis is one of the rare firms able to integrate its sizable lateral pool, deliver superior client service, change its approach to the market as needs develop, and is deeply committed to client-facing innovation (dating back over 20 years when Cisco used Morgan Lewis as the poster child for how to use AFAs). Look for the firm to take on more lateral groups and improve its already high-performing global client teams to drive leadership growth levels.

Paul, Weiss

Paul, Weis announced its new growth strategy by picking up Scott Barshay out of Cravath. Not only did it announce the death knell for lock step, it announced the firm was going big. The firm is one of the few with successful lateral integration. The firm’s lateral rainmakers are supported while growing the existing client base firmwide. A longtime client feedback advocate, Paul, Weiss is adding business (and profits) by leaps and bounds.

Quinn Emanuel

Quinn is nothing if not aggressive. Having passed $1 billion last year, you have to believe $3 or $5 billion in revenue is the next goal. The firm takes marketing and business development more seriously than most give it credit for. Quinn targets prime clients and goes after them with a vengeance. It understands how to win work without RFPs. The firm brings in rainmakers able to keep their existing clients while also finding new ones. Quinn is enjoying brand growth—driving more inbound leads. A growing group of clients is coming to terms with Quinn’s representing plaintiffs and defendants—and a few clients see it is a plus.

Skadden

Boasting one of the strongest brands, competitors expect the firm to gain the momentum to go right past Kirkland and Latham. The firm enjoys an institutional client base with large budgets and recurring needs. The brand generates significant inbound referrals. Skadden sits in the heart of the markets showing the most growth—providing a strong tailwind.

Skadden assigns a group of partners to look at business development and client related issues at regular intervals. These groups may not have long lives but a short life span can bring a more thoughtful approach. Our research detected 2 changes to it's business development and client development tactics—both relying on educating clients on leading-edge trends in transactions and litigation. While Skadden has a history of using their knowledge to keep clients current—the tactic is becoming more widespread – developing brand and new business across a wide swath of top legal decision makers.

The Big 4

A smaller number of law firm marketing leaders expect the Big 4 to eclipse law firms in size and growth. The Big 4 can only achieve this by acquisition; this would clearly redefine the business of law as we know it and require some regulatory wrangling.

Nobody No How

11% of law firm marketing leaders believe Kirkland and Latham have a lock on being the fastest to grow. They see these 2 firms as having the strategies to continue being unmatched market leaders.

We eagerly watch the competing landscape unfold. Paul, Weiss and Kirkland will not be the only firms to pluck the best laterals. Other law firms are making large investments in their growth which they believe in their heart of hearts will drive market-setting growth. These firms rarely get noticed during early implementation and “pop up out of nowhere” when they start to grow.

We wish all these firms luck as we track their growth and watch how they navigate one of the most attractive legal markets to appear in almost 20 years.

MBR

 

Clients Shatter 2 Records Helping Latham Shatter $3 Billion in Revenue

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Clients are on pace in 2018 to record levels for spending the largest amount ever on outside counsel. At the same time, they rely on fewer law firms than ever.

Latham, which has just posted the highest revenue of any law firm, has been following and using these shifting client and market trends to its advantage for more than 10 years—it’s one reason Latham’s growth is in overdrive. 

Latham’s unprecedented growth is turbocharged by the firm understanding why clients are consolidating their work and then positioning the firm to pick up major chunks of new business with existing clients by delivering what clients are seeking.

Latham’s winning approach? Adopt the ‘provide-the-best-value’ approach, not the low-cost provider approach—and clearly this tactic is working.

This strategy becomes clear once you understand why clients are consolidating work.  

Improving Risk Management

The current round of consolidation is all about risk management and adding value. Clients have been cutting their law firms in an especially aggressive manner—dropping more than 19% of their firms over the last 3 years. On average, clients now have a record low 34 law firms on their panel, down from 42 firms in 2015. Clients’ goals with consolidation are to:

  • Streamline outside counsel management
  • Stop working with firms not adding measurable value
  • Have law firms build institutional knowledge about the company
  • Develop uniform understanding of their preferences among their law firms
  • Create uniform understanding around the risks they face

It’s Not About the Fees

Cutting your fees won’t keep you on the roster anymore. What clients are looking for most in their panel firms is: 

  • Knowledge about their specific risks and exposures
  • Vehicles to share and discuss this knowledge
  • Candor—how can they do things better and smarter
  • Tools—budget/progress dashboards and other tools where key information is now on-demand
  • Education on issues they need to know—going well beyond e-alerts

These criteria have big implications for how to develop big client relationships: 

  • Clients teams who don’t offer client-specific education programs will miss a major opportunity to upgrade the relationship. 
  • Play an active role in helping clients streamline their legal operations. 
  • Use client feedback to learn what tools clients have, what they want, and then give them more. 
  • Always be in an informal discussion with your client. Informal discussion provides the context for the formal requests— giving you knowledge no one else has, and you will learn about new needs before anyone else, too.
  • Offer to perform the work you know is coming down the pike—don’t wait for it.
  • Stick it out. Client growth is anything but linear. It will take more time to develop than you expect—and will then grow faster than you expect.

Clients have never been more serious about using their law firms in a more clever way. The market is still ripe for firms to execute this low-risk/high-return strategy, but success demands commitment, training, tools, and embracing the art and science of pulling all the pieces together to make it sing. Latham serves as highly visible proof of this concept. What more evidence do you need? 

BTI has helped some of the most successful firms in the world develop client growth plans. We would be happy to answer questions or discuss your approach.      

MBR/JPD

(Based on BTI research conducted on a rolling basis between February 2017 and December 2017. BTI conducted more than 350 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations)