End of world nigh as City mega legal deals dry up, forecasts top conveyancing specialist

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By Judge John Hack on

Kent-based high street lawyer who doubles as Law Society President paints gloomy picture of future


Big corporate deals are stalling, sparking fears that the City legal profession, the UK and wider global economies and life on the planet as we know it are about to tank — according to a residential conveyancing solicitor from Tunbridge Wells.

Announcing the apocalypse earlier today from his bird’s eye vantage point as senior partner of 15-lawyer high street firm Cooper Burnett was Jonathan Smithers.

The lawyer — whom the Kent powerhouse firm bills as being “nationally recognised for his expertise”, handling “a wide range of property and clients, from first-time buyers to country properties and estates” — formed his end-of-the-world-is-nigh view after liaising with clipboard toters at an outfit called Legal Monitor.

Every six months LM’s boffins track deals publicised by the UK’s top 50 law firms. And the Man of Kent (or should that be Kentish Man?) is worried by the latest findings.

According to figures, big corporate deals handled by that legal elite tumbled by nearly 14% in the first quarter of this year. The deal-meisters bounced back in Q2 (as they say round corporate boardrooms), but overall, the first half of 2015 was 3.5% down on the equivalent period last year.

There were also worrying figures around how much the deals that were done were worth. The value of all deals slipped by more than 11% in the first Q of this year relative to the previous Q, as City law firms acted in transactions worth some £432 billion.

However, overall value also bounced back to a position where second quarter cash was actually up year-on-year by a shade more than 10% to £512bn.

Nonetheless, Smithers — from his position on the south-east corner of Oxford Circus, clad in doom-and-gloom sandwich board — suggested that we all head for the underground shelters.

“The fall in the number of legal deals in the first half of 2015, followed by the slight pick-up suggest we may see a short-term stalling in the recovery of the UK and international economy,” said Smithers, who is also president of the Law Society, the body that represents solicitors in England and Wales.

The Home Counties and Chancery Lane man also referred to the current crisis in the far east.

The slowdown in China,” he predicted solemnly, “could well accentuate this trajectory.

And frankly, the last thing The Judge fancies is an accentuated trajectory.

This is the first time a Law Society president has encroached on territory normally populated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the governor of the Bank of England and just about every café waiter in Davos during the World Economic Forum.

According to the Legal Monitor report — which the Law Society sponsors — the fall in the total number of deals was widespread across sectors, but energy and utility transactions were especially thin on the ground owing to the tumbling oil prices. Technology, media and telecoms deals were also sparse relative to last year.

However, the researchers found that deals in the finance, banking, manufacturing, and — Smithers will doubtless be relieved to hear — the real estate and construction sectors increased in the first half of 2015.

So, perhaps it’s not the end of the world just yet.

Read the report in full below:

City Legal Index 2015