Bingham’s oriental excess

So, Bingham McCutchen. Two Japanese mergers in less than six months: has it gone crazy, we ask?

Apparently not. In fact, not only has Bingham not gone international takeover mad, it’s also been planning its rampant Asian expansion for years.

Way back in the mists of the 1990s, or 1997 to be exact, Bingham (then the much smaller Boston-based Bingham Dana & Gould), merged with one of the top Japanese firms in the US, Marks & Murase. The deal brought them Jiro Murase, who in turn brought a stellar inbound Japanese banking practice to the growing firm.

Ten years down the line Jiro, along with fellow partner Satoru Murase and the rest of their chums, needed a bigger platform to serve all those US clients who fancied doing business in a resurgent Japan.

The time was right for Bingham to have its own people on the ground in the country and, with the relationships this pair had built up over the previous decade, the rest was relatively simple. Enter this year’s deals with New Tokyo and Tokyo International Law Office.

All of which points to one thing, encapsulated perfectly by the managing partner of one of Bingham’s rivals, who, at his own request, will remain nameless.

“Mid-sized firms such as Bingham have figured out that the world is closing in and the question is, what are they going to do about it?” he muses.

“The world is dividing up between firms that are prepared to go outside their home market and build and those that have circled the wagons.”

Bingham’s Japanese adventure shows pretty clearly which camp it’s in.

Heller skelter
9 October 2007

Last month (The Lawyer, 24 September), we reported that Heller Ehrman was planning to open in Shanghai. When it opens there later this month, it will be the firm’s third office in China and its fourth in Asia.

The move came only months after Heller opened in London (The Lawyer, 22 January). The message was clear: Heller is in growth mode.

Then this: last week, Heller slashed 65 support staff jobs. What’s the story?

The reality is this. The cuts were all in the US – none overseas – and not only coincided with a period of unprecedented growth at the firm but reflected it.

Heller’s recent strategy has been to expand across the US and the globe. And the firm’s managing partner Robert Hubbell says it remains committed to doing so.

“This is part of our migration from our regional roots to a national, international and global law firm,” he said, appropriately enough talking to me from an airport.

“Each of our US offices had a built-in support system,” Hubbell added last Friday (5 October). “As we’ve expanded geographically in the US, we’ve built a footprint that allows us to take advantage of our broader platform. That means we can have staff support by practice area, region or function rather than on an office-by-office basis.”

In other words, as the firm has grown it has created overlapping roles among its support staff. Last week, those roles were cut.

Hubbell maintains that the cuts do not indicate any retrenchment in the US and do not affect the international part of its business. Neither were there any lawyers involved.

“We’re effectively completing a process that has been in train for some time,” added Hubbell.

Sometimes, unavoidably, you need to prune to continue growing.

To read Byrne in the USA from The Lawyer (8 October) click here.

To read last week’s Byrne in the USA blogs from TheLawyer.com click here.