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Baker & McKenzie has elected Christine Lagarde as its first female global chief executive. Lagarde's position as chairman of the executive committee of the world's largest law firm will make her one of the most powerful people in the legal profession.
Her appointment, officially announced today, makes her the first European partner to serve as chairman since the post became full-time in 1984. Nine of the 11 previous chairmen have been American. Lagarde is the first French national to hold the position, which has also been held by a German and an Australian. And at 43, she is also one of the youngest.
She will hold the post for three years, with the possibility of re-election. She takes over from the outgoing Californian chairman John Klotsche.
Lagarde takes over at a time when the firm's position as the world's largest legal outfit is under threat. In January, Clifford Chance will take the lead following its merger with Rogers & Wells and Punder Volhard Weber & Axster.
But in an exclusive interview with The Lawyer (page 20), Lagarde says the firm is entering an expansionist phase and that Europe is set to play a central role.