4. Big-ticket legal costs outside fundraising or M&A.
Outside of fundraising and M&A, more than 80% of US PE firms reported one-off legal expenses accounting for 5% or more of the total legal spend. These line items included the following:
- 87% cited employment
- 87% cited regulation
- 81% cited litigation
- 53% cited tax
In addition, four percent of respondents cited additional big-ticket costs they preferred not to identify.
5. Size of the law firm panel.
About half of the US PE firms (47%) work with between six and 10 external law firms, though some work with more and some work with fewer:
- 36% work with 1-5 external law firms
- 47% work with 6-10
- 13% work with 11-20
- 4% work with 21-30
It’s worth noting, most send much of their legal work to a smaller panel of firms. Among US PE firms, 81% say three-quarters of their total external legal spend goes to six or few law firms. In addition, about one-third (30%) say they spend that amount with just 3 or fewer firms.
6. As deals slow, legal spend slows.
The vast majority (98%) of PE firms expect their legal spend will decline in 2020. Some 83% say legal spend will fall by 6% or more. Another quarter (23%) expect it to drop by 10% or more.
One key factor is most respondents expect deal-flow to slow and so their need for external counsel has slowed. However, that’s not the only reason. Below are the factors PE firms say are driving cost pressure on legal spending:
- 89% – reduction in deal volume
- 87% – increase in other costs
- 68% – introduction of procurement skills
- 51% – introduction of producing leads or teams
- 19% – demand to improve efficiency
7. Scrutiny of legal spending grows.
Recessions tend to accelerate trends already in motion. To that end, PE firms say they were already scrutinizing external legal spending. US PE firms report a 24% increase in the level of scrutiny applied to external legal spend since 2018. As deal volume drops, and other cost pressures grow, it stands to reason legal spending will continue to be carefully examined.
8. Value the counsel, but not the business process.
It’s clear from the data, that PE firms value the legal counsel they are receiving from their law firm partners:
- 91% trust their external legal counsel to offer quality advice
- 85% trust external legal counsel to bring innovative ideas to support their business
However, the business side of the relationship leaves much to be desired:
- 53% trust their external legal counsel to bill them promptly
- 30% trust their external legal counsel to bill them accurately
Nearly eight in 10 US-based respondents don’t believe their legal spend is transparent and, it seems, are routinely surprised by the invoices they receive from law firms.
9. An opportunity for better legal operations.
While law firms could improve their billing processes, PE firms also have an opportunity to get a handle on legal spending. About four in ten (43%) senior legal stakeholders do not believe that their organizations currently make efforts to manage legal spend. Moreover, most (91%) are still collating and analyzing billing data old-fashioned spreadsheets.
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The statistics above were derived from a survey of 47 US-based private equity firms with at least $2 billion under management and have raised more than one PE fund. Among this slice of the sample, two-thirds of respondents had $5 billion or more under management and 57% have raised five or more funds. The full report – The Changing PE Legal Spend Landscape – is freely available for download with registration.
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