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Prediction: The large independents will survive, but mid-tier firms will merge with international incomers, particularly from Asia
Continental Europe has always been slower than the UK or US to catch on to trends in the legal market, and while there has been consolidation in the past few years Europe has escaped the mass mergers that have characterised the Anglo-Saxon and Asian regions recently.
In five years’ time, that will remain true to an extent. The largest independent European firms will still be in existence, but the relationships built between some of the major players will be tighter and more crucial than ever. That includes the alliance currently being built between Chiomenti, Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira, Gide Loyrette Nouel and Gleiss Lutz – which will also have found a name by 2018 and will be far more integrated than it currently is.
The mid-tier will continue to be the target for international firms. Although the key European markets are crowded now, there are still gaps. Some firms, notably US players who have overstretched themselves in expansion, will have pulled out but others will have moved in.
There will certainly be at least one Chinese firm with its own office in Continental Europe, on top of King & Wood Mallesons which will have capitalised on SJ Berwin’s European offering. German firms like Heuking Kühn Lüer Wojtek or Luther will be the target for these newcomers, offering a solid base to break in.
But European firms will not have expanded much overseas. Learning from the lessons of the past, they will retain some key representative offices – notably in the UK and Asia – and a handful will be able to support a presence in Eastern Europe too. The greatest expansion will come from Iberia, as Spanish and Portuguese firms look to the cultural links in Latin America and Africa to diversify away from their still-sluggish economies.