Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Key challenges for BigLaw firms in current market

Amid economic turbulence, Colin Biggers & Paisley managing partner Nick Crennan is striving for long-term goals and investments – both in terms of specific practice areas and his staff.

user iconLauren Croft 03 October 2023 Big Law
expand image

Speaking on a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, the managing partner discussed how BigLaw firms across the country are reacting to the various market conditions and emphasised the value of thinking long term.

Mr Crennan has been with Colin Biggers & Paisley for 35 years, after joining in 1988, and has been managing partner since 2017.

In the current and “uncertain” market, BigLaw firms have been focusing on specific practice areas – and Mr Crennan said that for Colin Biggers & Paisley, insurance would be a key focus long term.


“The thing about insurance is that the external market just keeps throwing up more and more risk. And whether it’s cyber, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s generative AI, all of these things are emerging out of commerce and out of civil society. And so, the huge importance of insurance to enable those commercial and civil activities to continue to occur just can’t be underestimated,” he explained.

“The insurance practice demand is growing, and it’s becoming more sophisticated and requires at least two elements. I think [that] on one side, the clients are demanding a more sophisticated offering in terms of data. But they also need and want really good people working for them. They really want the quality, the insight, the commerciality. So that’s where one of our investments [is]. We do the data stuff. But the human stuff, finding the right people, growing them, keeping them, that’s key to us, and that’s our differentiator; we tend to keep people a very long time.

“There’s a lot of people in our firm that have been there a long time because they like the way we work, they like the practical clarity, they like the commerciality that we deliver, and they like the collegiality, the sense of collaboration, the insurance practice excellent example of a team-based environment. Very collaborative and very energetic. It’s an easy thing to invest in. Whether you’ve got short-term challenges or medium-term ones, the same things apply. Get the right people, look after them, grow them. Now, that might well be good economic sense in bad times.”

Therefore, instead of bolstering certain practice areas and then shrinking them down depending on the market, Colin Biggers & Paisley is, instead, thinking more long term.

“We don’t expand rapidly in particular areas and then contract because the investment we make in our people is extremely important. And once you make that investment; you want to keep it, you want the value that delivers to grow and grow and grow,” he added.

“Now, sure, we are looking at insolvency and restructuring as a place to invest, but that’s a long-term investment as well. It’s not just in response to the current market. We see that as a very valuable area of practice which is strategically aligned with what we do.”

In terms of taking a long-term viewpoint in other areas, there are a number of key issues and trends legal leaders need to be on top of, according to Mr Crennan.

“Cyber security, huge issue, just enormous. The need to be alert and to invest in that is quite challenging. And once again, you can invest so much in terms of platforms and software, but your greatest weakness is people, so you have to invest in that as well. Generative AI is a huge issue. It’s already here. People don’t realise it, but it’s already operating in a lot of the things we already have. And we spend a bit of time in our practice groups looking at what the impacts and challenges and opportunities are going to be caused by the expansion of that technology,” he explained.

“How we use space coming out of the hybrid discussion and its importance to have people face to face, but in a space that they want to be in whilst giving them flexibility. We’ve had a bout of inflation, and that’s been challenging. Whenever you’re doing remuneration rounds in that environment, there’s a very challenging conversation [that] occurs. And it’s not just remuneration; the cost of doing business generally has risen significantly, and that’s putting pressure on margins. And at the same time, our clients are enduring cost pressures of their own in their capacity to pay higher rates.

“And then, of course, there has been an issue with the talent pipeline. It’s sort of coming off a bit now as the borders have opened up and there [are] more people coming into the country with legal qualifications, but there still remains a bottleneck, if you like, of talent. And that’s, as I’ve said already a couple of times, that’s our biggest investment.”

To deal with these challenges, law firm leaders can use a number of resources to help, including utilising their internal and external colleagues, as well as continually focusing on strategy.

“Being able to talk to people outside of the firm and outside of legal practice is really important because they have great ideas about how you can address these things. I find that a very useful resource. Talking to your fellow managing partners is very helpful. Managing partners do, in fact, share very similar challenges, and there are some great benefits in seeking mentorship and collegiality amongst them.

“But your greatest resource is your colleagues within the firm and being able to talk to them, triage issues with them. Share leadership, grow leadership. In fact, it is a leadership growth opportunity to be able to give your colleagues responsibility for dealing with some of those issues as well,” Mr Crennan added.

“I’m also a great believer in purpose. A shared purpose, a vision, [and] shared values. Having those as your touchstone. Collectively developing strategy. A fully democratised strategy which emerges not only from the partners but [also] from the fee-earner cohort and from the non-fee-earner cohort. Developing that strategy that you share and then executing it and communicating it.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Nick Crennan, click below:

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!