bclp

"...and so we thought, given the volume of departures, it was a sensible innovation."


Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner has shed 20% of its UK-registered partners in under a year, a far higher percentage than its closest rivals. Or its furthest ones.

At first glance the statistics paint a picture of healthy growth. 131 BCLP partners were registered with Companies House coming into 2022, which rose to 159 after a handful of lateral hires and a raft of appointments in January bolstered the ranks. The firm's site shows 113 are based in London.

But behind the rosy headline figures there has been huge churn. 32 UK-registered partners have gone in the space of just over 12 months, representing 20% of the current UK-registered partnership. 

A handful of the losses were the result of internal moves. Two partners are still partners, they just moved to Sydney. Two others became PSLs, and two who were in leadership positions - Neville Eisenberg in the UK and Roland Fabian in Germany - stepped down to advisory and Of Counsel roles respectively.

However, that doesn't account for the sizeable chunk bitten out of BCLP, which was created in 2018 when the UK's Berwin Leighton Paisner merged with US firm Bryan Cave.

Leavers have spread their wings for firms including DLA Piper (4), Ashurst (2), Mishcon de Reya (2), Addleshaw Goddard, DWF, Eversheds Sutherland, Fieldfisher, Fladgate, HFW, and a bevy of US firms including Kirkland & Ellis, Reed Smith, Greenberg Traurig, White & Case and Goodwin Procter.

The resulting 20% leave rate is significantly higher than other firms spot-tested by RollOnFriday. BCLP's so-called silver circle compatriots have lost a far smaller percentage of partners over the same timeframe.

Ashurst dropped 8%, Herbert Smith Freehills and Travers Smith 6%, and Macfarlanes just 4%, which isn't a huge surprise given it's a partner profit-generating unit of a firm. 

In the wider market, too, BCLP is by far the lossiest firm. The vast majority lost a percentage in the low single figures - although by ROF's calculations, Squire Patton Boggs hit 10%.

In a statement BCLP said, "We have been through a period of strengthening our business. We are focused on strongly performing, strategically aligned teams core to our growth and high-performance culture".

"This is evidenced by a strong pipeline of more than 10 lateral partners in the UK alone", it said, adding that, "We also continue to invest in new talent, with 21 partner promotions taking effect this month – 7 of those in the UK".

The statement continued, "As we continue strengthening the BCLP platform for our clients around the globe, we are focused on building around ‘multipliers’ – partners who can leverage our platform with multi-office, multi-disciplinary practices – as we’ve done very successfully in Paris and Germany. We’ve seen tremendous growth in these markets, and we’re confident in our strategy and optimistic about the future as we drive toward renewed growth in the UK in the year ahead".

The strategy checks out: who needs five partners when one 'multiplier' can hare round Europe picking up tax, employment, real estate and M&A specialisms at the drop of a hat.

As well as the super-lawyer multipliers, a cadre of high quality BCLP senior associates have earned well-deserved seats at the partners' table. Whereas at many top-heavy firms senior solicitors grumble about chances of getting made up so small they require an electron microscope to detect, at BCLP, good candidates actually do have a chance of making it.

Whether they'll stay for very long is another matter, but the incoming RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2023 results should shed some light on exactly how people are feeling inside Bryan's leaky Cave.


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Comments

...into the fire 20 January 23 09:26

Good luck to the ones who went to Mishcon and Fladgate - out of the frying pan...

Sceptical 20 January 23 09:41

spokesperson :“We have been through a period of strengthening our business. We are focused on strongly performing, strategically aligned teams core to our growth and high-performance culture".

translation: “we only do real estate now”

Sure sure sure 20 January 23 09:46

"We are focused on strongly performing, strategically aligned teams core to our growth and high-performance culture."

Ah, the old "partners have been leaving because they've been pushed out for underperformance" chestnut. Classy.

Though I suppose no firm is likely to go for the alternative: "partners have been leaving because the firm's a shambles and they're unhappy".

I assume some journalists (at RoF or elsewhere) are doing some investigative work to find out which is true...

Anonymous 20 January 23 09:56

Numbers don’t sound right. It says 159 partners in London but their website shows 113 partners in London (which would make it more like 30% losses in 12 months!)

 

Ninja99 20 January 23 10:00

I am sure among the departures there were welcomed ones and regrettable ones... The numbers alone don't tell that story..

US observer 20 January 23 10:09

Underperforming partners at US firms are getting the boot too. Stealth layoffs are happening across the larger US firms including the big names paying £165k+ NQ. 

Anon 20 January 23 10:17

@ into the fire - you sound like a legacy BLP Partner who is stranded after the merger and is jealous of former colleagues who have been able to move on. 

It’s the quality of those leaving that is noticeable… 20 January 23 10:59

So many high quality partners have left, that is the really crazy thing about it, just haemorrhaging top people who made the firm what it used to be.

As well as partner departures, it’s a shame that ROF doesn’t have access to associate numbers - a year after having lost nearly all of irs commercial/technology associates, and all but one of its restructuring associates, BCLP have now nearly lost all their banking associates too. So much great homegrown talent, destined to be the future of the firm, has just disappeared…!

Comment 20 January 23 11:09

BCLP puff up their London partner numbers by including French and German partners on UK companies house. The real number of London partners is on their own website and is much lower (and so the attrition rate in London is much higher)

Anonymous 20 January 23 11:22

Losing quality internally promoted partners who were only made up in the last couple of years to firms like Kirkland, Ashurst and Goodwin doesn’t sound like managing high performance to me. Unless they actually meant “we’ve managed out our high performers, oops!”

Anonymous 20 January 23 11:27

When I worked there the head of our department had an ego bigger than Trump and acted like he thought he was Piers Morgan or Craig from Strictly Come Dancing … [checks website] … yep he’s still there!

Craig from Strictly 20 January 23 11:39

@ anonymous- I take offence at that!

seriously though you can’t run the managing performance defence when our salaries are way  below market, business services has had a pay freeze whilst inflation is over 10% and partner profits put them in 92nd place in the top 100 

 

Anonymous 20 January 23 12:33

Good on those leaving - a firm with lots of excellent (and likeable) lawyers, unfortunately held back by a relentless focus on real estate. If you’re in any other department, you are a support function. 

Also Leaving 20 January 23 12:41

@ITN Newsflash - although there is no announcement and the only way for us to discover a partner has left is the moment we need them, call them, and they’re not there. 
 

Just watch the Partner numbers continue to fall this year. And wait for the financial announcement. No amount of spin is going to make it sound positive. 

Birmingham City 20 January 23 12:54

There are certain partners who are very active at posting utter rubbish or simply reposting news articles on LinkedIn and pretending they are still relevant with thriving practices, whilst the place is burning down around them.  

Quite tragic when one thinks about it.

Anon 20 January 23 12:58

(1) it’s no state secret that the market has been flooded with BLP partner CVS for most of 2022.  If I were an associate at that firm, I’d be jumping.

(2) the bigger and unquantified is the number of partner exits that are being made under the radar across the market.  The scythe is focusing on older “service” partners with no book of business. Younger partners are cheaper and have plenty of time to build up; it’s the late 50s trundlers that are being pushed out. The market’s creative destruction is coming people and it will reach associates/business services soon #TheSpiritOf08Again

Anon 20 January 23 13:12

@ anon 1258 - good points.  You also forget those partners who take a significant amount out of the pot whilst generating nothing of note and spend their days internally politicking.   As another poster noted, BLP was an excellent firm with good people and good clients.  Sad to see what has happened.

 

 

 

Serious question 20 January 23 14:03

Why do a US merger with all the cost and disruption that involves, only to then focus on UK/French/German real estate?!? Did Brian Cave have many US clients focused on European real estate? I doubt it. 
 

this is the fundamental problem with law firm partnership structures. In a company, the board gets fired for its poor decisions. In a law firm, the board fires everyone else for its poor decisions. 

Anon 20 January 23 14:15

They have lost a lot of really good people including high quality senior partners, talented young partners who have recently been made up, and a ton of good associates. Various reasons for the departures but people can and do move to firms like Goodwin, Kirkland, Ashurst etc. to join their former colleagues for a big pay rise.

The firm has lost its way since the merger and has struggled to find an identity in the UK outside of its core real estate practice.

Liz Truss 20 January 23 15:06

 Turnaround plan 101:

1. change the name. To anything else really. It’s terrible.

2. demerge from the Americans. It didn’t work and that’s fine. Making mistakes is acceptable in business, ignoring them and hoping it will get better isn’t.

3. Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t. Be honest with people. Thank you for your service, but we’ve gone down a real estate path and you don’t do that so let’s work together to find you a new home. It’s not personal. Anyone moving to Goodwin etc is going to double their money anyway, win win.

4. Changes at the top asap. Maybe don’t give Liz Truss’s long lost sister another 8 years in office? Just a thought. 

Simples innit. 

Former BCLP BS Staff 20 January 23 15:17

I was at BLP/BCLP for nearly 5 years in London as part of the Business Services team. The merger was a stressful enough experience to put anyone off working there, but the Americanisation of the firm has only got more stark as time has gone on. Time and again, C-Suite BS roles were moved from London to Chicago or St Louis, and Partners increasingly grumbled about their practices being pulled from under them by Project Advance, a multi-million pound slideshow presentation by McKinsey that made the US the focus of the firm and concentrated on sectors that mattered in the Mid West. London has become a RE cash cow with a handful of other practices hanging onto its coat tails.

These latest partner departures (which I'd say on the whole are the firm jettisoning deadwood from the London partnership) don't tell the whole story, as countless associates, new partners and business services staff have left in the years since the merger, with the pandemic only halting the flow momentarily as staff were put off by hiring freezes at other firms. BLP had a fantastic vibe about it when I joined; it was competitive and scrappy with the firms around it, but friendly and welcoming to those within. That spark and warmth sadly looks to be extinguishing fast and I don't know what it could do to try and recover. I wonder whether Mrs Mayhew would go ahead with the merger if given the chance again, given what has become of what was BLP since then. 

Anonymous 20 January 23 16:24

The multiplier excuse is wild. It’s the kind of excuse I would have used when I was a teenager.

‘I’ve only kissed two girls, but they’re both multipliers’

BL 20 January 23 17:11

Weren’t they going to merge with greenbergs at one point? That would have made more business sense given the commercial property focus. 
 

it’s a shame because BL (as was) was a good outfit. Not perfect but a decent brand and did some great deals for its size. The founding partners were titans of their day in that property world, the likes of Stanley Berwin, Laurie Heller, Neil Sinclair, Jon Bennet, Hugh Homan. They’d be turning in their graves if they could see what it’s become now. 

Stranded BCLP SA 20 January 23 17:45

Former BCLP BS Staff 20 January 23 15:17

Spot on with that summation.

I’m an lifer SA in a team that’s in a sector cast aside by the firm (so therefor like a Death Star) and all i can say is that its like being in an irrational and grotesque parallel universe. Project Advance was like a Project One-Step Forward and Fifteen Back but all of the spin around it by management tried to make it sound like the yellow brick road to sunlit uplands. All utter rubbish. 

It has done so much damage to the careers of many associates (me included) and partners (lifers and laterals) who made serious commitments to the firm only to have their future careers (and in some cases established practices) irreparably damaged by the firm turning its back on certain sectors even when the received wisdom in the market (at odds with the McKinsey multi-million dollar slide deck) suggested that those sectors had a future. I witnessed the firm hire people in to contribute to the growth of sectors one month then a couple of months after joining decide to abandon those sectors. This was, obviously, massively damaging to those involved but also to the wider teams who clearly wanted to see commitment to the sectors they had spent years at the firm (from trainee up) committing to growing.

Unfortunately, I’m now so stuck at what has become a backwater firm in my sector that I’m unlikely to be able to make a progressive move as the quality of matters that the partners left in the group bring in just doesnt cut it in the market as other firms are clearly doing much better quality deals. I’ve seen nearly half a dozen associates leave to go to MC and US firms and the matters they’ve worked on over the last 12-24 months is something that I can now only dream of.

Hugely disappointed with the firm that I joined as a trainee.

Anonymous 20 January 23 18:54

Tbf it's worked out really well for the senior associates in teams where all the partners have left - like property and construction - as they got a tap on the shoulder without having proper business cases and got promoted. We all need some luck from time to time!

Promoted 20 January 23 20:08

@ anonymous - getting promoted to partner without a business case, in a firm that’s shrinking and where all the established partners have left, presumably taking their clients with them. Hmmm…I think I might see a flaw in that cunning plan…

Innocents to the slaughter 21 January 23 08:39

if they just wanted a US presence the they should have gone for a franchise model like a DLA or The Shed. Traditional English law firms have always been innocents to the slaughter when it comes to full financial integration into a US partnership model.

The top US firms are a bit different because they structure themselves like corporations, but mid-tier US firms like Bryan cave are run like a barristers chambers - you contribute a small % to overhead and then you are paid on what you personally bring in. 

US partners typically do all the work themselves and it’s not unusual to find a US partner who does a bit of M+A, some IP, some litigation and some private client work, and keeps that all within his/her/their siloed team of associates. They only resource outside that pool when they really, really have to.  Because that’s how they get paid. Also, because most of the work is hourly billing, they want the most expensive person doing the work. So the partners chargeable hours will be higher than their associates. 
 

another telling factor is that Americans don’t call it income, salary, earnings, profit share or whatever- they all refer to their “compensation” . And that’s telling, because they expect at the end of the year to be “compensated” for what they and their separate group has delivered, irrespective of the performance of the rest of the firm. If Paris has made a loss, then sack them, I’m not earning less because of it. They don’t get things like employment right and due process, they live in a world of fire at will. There is no concept of investment or market cycles.

English law firms on the other hand have come from a completely different place. Although the lock step model was broken a long time ago, the DNA is still very much that we are in this together and it’s a profit share. When disputes and insolvency is quiet, transactions will be busy, but then it will flip around because the market is cyclical. There is a still a pay gap amongst partners but they take a 3 year view when deciding on pay and firing. And their is a general expectation that in good years, everyone gets a bit of upside because you are all “owners of the business”.

also because the market outside the US has a lot more caps and fixed fees, you are encouraged to push work down and get the cheapest people to do the work. The classic pyramid resourcing structure, which is the total opposite of the US model. Departments are rigidly divided into different legal work and anyone stepping out of their lane to dabble in a bit of litigation or a bit of tax or whatever is quickly brought into line because it damages the brand and because there are other people who are more qualified to do that work.

when you drop a load of English law firm partners into a US “compensation” system, it’s always blood on the carpet. Most get screwed, because they don’t have the high hours or siloed billings, for the reasons outlined above. A small few big biller and hoarders will see their earnings catapult through the roof and will be delighted.

It then becomes a feral hunger games in subsequent years, where all that “collegiate team working” goes out the window and partners either adapt to the new reality or they get pushed aside and squeezed out. Or they decide that, if that’s the new reality, then they might as well move their practice to a better and more profitable version of it at another firm. I suspect this what happened at BCLP.

the classic trick Americans always pull is to weight the compensation committee in their favour. They will happily give up equal votes at board level because they know the real power lies with those who count out the money in the “comp committee”. English law firms assume that governance and management comes from the top and that the board is the most important structure and so fall into this trap every time.

none of this is a secret btw, it happened to my old shop which “merged” with jones day, it happened at squire Saunders, Mayer brown, reed smith and now to BLP. The point is however that the trade off for the English partners in taking all that pain and risk is that, in theory, you then have access to a wonderful roster of US clients paying top dollar fees. In practice the American partners won’t let you anywhere near their clients and will still try to do all the work themselves and then ask a junior London associate to print out the docs day before signing.

BLP either had to stay independent, or bite the bullet and get taken over by a much more profitable US firm with genuine international client base and lots of US corporation clients hungry to do deals in Europe. By going for a “marriage of equals” they fell through a trap door that you then can’t get out of. It’s all very well for them to bang on about performance but their results relative to the market are poor and have been that way for many years now. 

Anon 21 January 23 11:52

Innocent’s comments above are really interesting and insightful.  Two follow up questions/comments:

(i) Why has Hogan Lovells tie up been such a success? Is this because (as rumoured) despite operational integration, the financials remain largely separate? Is the US side not as dominant? The fact that a proud old NY firm like Shermans (the hottest US firm in the 90s/00s) is being taken over by Lovells is extraordinary to this old timer. 

(ii) The BCLP examples illustrate a certain wisdom in the DLA/Baker & McKenzie/Eversheds/Norton Rose approach — understanding their places in the market, treading very carefully, and getting timing right.  If you look at DLA in particular, it’s a different firm in a lot of ways to the firm of the early noughties when it started making its presence felt; it’s as profitable as a top City practice and we see them on many more good deals.  Eversheds also seems to have got it right more recently.  
 

Another example — with hindsight, SJ Berwin was always going to fail due to the  complete cultural and financial mismatch — a Chinese firm charging knockdown Chinese rates and a super-elite urbane Australian establishment firm was never going to line up well with a boutique-y PE and Real Estate firm with a hard charging culture.

Then there’s Ashurst and Herbert Smith which have had complete makeovers in the best possible ways, their mergers seems to have stabilised and both firms are doing very nicely by all accounts.

Anonymous 21 January 23 11:58

I see your point Promoted but being a partner at a sinking ship is better than being a senior associate at a sinking ship. 

Some teams still have v good reps and so moving once you are a partner at BCLP is easy.

Saint Louis 21 January 23 12:10

There can’t be many global corporations headquartered in Saint Louis. A quick Wikipedia search suggests a brewing company, a national  sports team, some domestic utilities and that’s about it. Oh and Build-a-Bear whatever that is. Sounds cool though. 

maybe McKinsey should have given them a map with East and West coasts of US on it, plus Chicago, and then a big arrow showing where Saint Louis is?

Anon 21 January 23 12:23

One only has to look at certain Partners who generate very little financially compared to their high salaries and who instead spend their days politicking internally, to also see the rot which has set in. 

Anon 21 January 23 15:37

@08:39

that’s an excellent overview on how things are and why BCLP is haemorrhaging partners and teams. More to come I’m sure.

BCLP is definitely not working to the usual 3 year model for partners; more like six months (if that).

It simply isn’t a credible model for sustainable growth.

Once Bitten … 22 January 23 13:07

Anon @ 11:58

agreed in principle except for when things start to go south and the firm starts to play hard ball with your comp package, and distributions are reduced, held back, removed, and then the tax reserve evaporates and then it all falls apart … meanwhile you clients go elsewhere and your practice has cratered.

Anon 22 January 23 16:14

The substantial exits in London are not just at Partner level. There have been a significant number of exits amongst associates and business services including HR, BD and Grad Rec.  It’s a shame ROF cannot obtain and publish those figures.

 

 

Stranded SA 23 January 23 09:45

Former BCLP BS Staff 20 January 23 15:17

In my team in the last year we lost four decent partners with clients and are left with three who barely have a practice between them. Utterly unexplainable.

And we have also lost over half a dozen associates/senior associates.

The firm is a shadow of its former self.

Former blp 23 January 23 20:22

It’s almost as if focusing on a low margin, high churn business, resulting in low pay and long hours, isn’t a great way for global dominance.  

Merging with BC, after GT proved to be too impressive for them, should’ve given some power parity at least, but instead it’s becoming a satellite office of a hum drum US shop  

Having seen partner pay five years ago, it was inevitable that the talent and the deadwood would both be disappearing in short order. 
 

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of charlatans and philanderers. 

anon 23 January 23 21:15

Some very perceptive comments by innocents to the slaughter.

Has anyone ever articulated why BLP felt it had to merge with an unknown US law firm?  BLP was a well respected City outfit with good people and clients which always held its own against many City law firms.  It seems to now be sinking at an alarming rate in London.

Elephant in room 23 January 23 23:05

Isn’t the elephant in the room that they keep losing quality real estate partners as well. Two more went this month alone, both to better firms. The narrative about focusing their efforts on real estate doesn’t stack up either. 

Pressganged Associate 25 January 23 04:20

Help me.

I’m in bus services at the firm and I’ve been told by Comms to sit here and do five downlikes for every like until the firm catches up and Roffers stop voting. Please stop liking the comments so I can go home.

Anonymous 25 January 23 12:28

Yes the real estate partners going has destroyed key parts of their business. 

Commercial litigator 25 January 23 13:18

I don't get the point of doing real estate in a city law firm. In the long term how can you possibly compete against other city firms for office space / associates (given the rising cost of both) and regional outfits on price.  All real estate practices should be shipped out to the regions.

Barings 25 January 23 21:16

What are the financials for the UK looking like?  Do Partners need to be worried about their capital?   Trying to freeze business services pay is a bad sign.

Anonymous 25 January 23 21:19

So city law firms should stop doing real estate as other city law firms can do it?

That makes....er....sense?

It's the same as any practice area, the city will charge the most and pay the most and clients will still come flocking.

 

 

Go forth and multiply 25 January 23 22:03

Comments about an over-reliance on real estate are wrong. 

We also have real estate finance, corporate real estate, real estate tax, real estate funds and excellent construction and planning teams focused on buildings and land and stuff. 

A well-hedged practice (we also do conveyances of fields and hedges). 

We are multiplying and winning with our multiplying.  So much winning. A lot of people have said that about us. 
 

Legal Business article 26 January 23 06:26

From the Legal Business article in 2016 about the failed merger between BLP and Greenberg:

“It promised to create a property giant across the Atlantic and one of the most distinctive law firms in the global market but in the end the mooted union between BLP and Greenberg Traurig has been called off.”

“…the challenge of putting together Greenberg’s more individualistic partner pay model with BLP’s modified lockstep…”

“In a statement, executive chairman Richard Rosenbaum said: ‘Greenberg Traurig is a substantially larger and more diversified firm than BLP… The core real estate practice which first attracted us….”

https://www.legalbusiness.co.uk/blogs/not-enough-common-ground-blp-and-greenberg-call-off-transatlantic-merger-bid/amp/

Anon 26 January 23 07:35

That merger is like the love child of a drunken fling with a Tuesday night stripper. Morally you want to do the right thing by the child, but all your family are telling you the relationship won’t make it til Christmas 

Lisa’s Lovechild 26 January 23 23:05

Time to fall on your sword Mom. You have lost our  trust and respect. Not that you ever really had it. Roll on new Chair(s). 
 

The numbers will speak for themselves. 

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