Breaks for the border

UK firms have reorganised, changed focus, sacked lawyers, merged and closed offices.

But innovation is dead. Here’s a question: where are all the fresh ideas? And another: what’s the Turkish word for innovation?

For the answers head to Berlin in September, to the marbled halls and fountains at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, where one of the largest groups of ­Continental lawyers will gather for an awards evening organised by this magazine, on 23 ­September. You won’t meet a more enthusiastic
and entrepreneurial group of practitioners ­anywhere in the world.

Why is this? London is not the centre of the ­universe. Money is coming from China, India and Russia and heading straight to Prague, Serbia and Turkey. Business is growing, the magic circle has turned its attentions elsewhere and independent law firms are picking up the mid-market spoils.

The independent firms that span Europe share no more the same legal markets as they do language or climate. For clients this is a minefield and the magic circle has historically picked up the ticket, but a need to lower costs has changed that.

Pan-regional firms and big independents are ­picking up more instructions across Europe’s emerging markets.

Some firms, especially those in Central and ­Eastern Europe, have turned this regional diversity into a unique selling point, hawking themselves to US and UK law firms, as well as multi-national companies, as one-stop shops spanning 12, 14 or 16 countries. It is an easier sell than ever.

Cross-border work is second nature to most large firms in these regions, giving them the experience to expand beyond their own borders. This is fertile ground for new ideas, with firms taking UK and US models and adapting them to their own needs.

Evidence of this excitement and opportunity is written all over the entries for The Lawyer European Awards, revealing an abundance of clever ideas beyond those currently found within most UK firms. For these lawyers opportunity sits all around them at adjoining tables at The Lawyer event, but also when they return to their home nations.

Innovation is dead. Long live yenilik!