Creating a global firm through networks and alliances is a long and complex business. Last week a two-day conference organised by The Lawyer (20-21 January) explored a host of issues surrounding international alliances and how to deliver global legal services.
The keynote address was given by Bruce MacEwen, well-known US law firm consultant and proprietor of legal blog Adam Smith Esq.
Posing the question “How global are we?”, his analysis showed that very few firms are truly international – the corollary being that alliances are necessary in certain regions. MacEwen also explored where traditional global firms might be vulnerable during the downturn. “The richest are being hit hardest,” he noted.
However, MacEwen’s final note was upbeat, citing Keynes’ rallying cry of “animal spirits” and call for optimism.
Frederic ;Donnedieu de Vabres, of French tax lawyers Arsene and part of tax law network Taxand, shared his experience of the history of the network.
Taxand was set up by nine former Arthur Andersen-linked firms. It operates a lean central management structure ;through ;a European Econimic Interest Grouping registered in Luxembourg and a nine-member management board.
Questions from the floor on the vexed issue of referral arrangements dominated the follow-on discussion.
Central to the morning’s debate ;was ;a ;panel discussion with some stellar in-house ;names: ;ITV general counsel Andrew Garard; Tyco deputy general counsel David Symonds; Carillion ;director ;of legal services Richard Tapp; Unilever head of legal Paul Neely; NCH Europe regional general counsel Altaf Kara; Diageo associate general counsel David Harlock; and Morgan Stanley ;Real ;Estate general counsel Humphrey Edginton.
All had had very different experiences of using alliance firms and networks, and many declared that they had an open mind when it came to law firm models.
Unilever’s Neely spoke about how his thoughts had evolved over the past decade. He cited his experience on the disposal of the company’s global chemical businesses in the mid-1990s, when Unilever appointed a single firm, and the company’s recent decision to outsource the legal work of its entire trademark portfolio.
ITV’s Garard talked of his experience in a previous job of coping with an investigation by the FBI. The US firms he employed were happy to work together as a team, whereas in the UK, he said, it was quite the opposite.
In the afternoon CMS executive partner Dick Tyler took to the stage to talk about running a nine-firm European alliance. He said clients do not need a “one size fits all” approach, but wanted different things in different countries.
German ;companies value technical expertise, according to CMS research, whereas UK companies look for client service.
The CMS model, which sees nine separate firms work together as a single organisation, allows its members to offer real local expertise with the benefits of a pan-European practice, he said.
But the model is not without its problems, and getting nine separate firms to ;move ;in ;the ;same direction is no easy feat.
There was a tough decision to make over whether to lose the local names of the firms in the network and rebrand them all as CMS. In the end CMS decided to keep the local monikers, which resonate in each of the nine countries.
Another firm with a brand dilemma was Spain’s Garrigues. ;Managing partner Jose Maria Alonso has spent years setting up a network of partners in South America that he had hoped to christen the ‘Garrigues Alliance’. But the local firms were unhappy with the name and, after two years of wrangling, they settled on Affinitas.
Now that the Affinitas network is up and running, Garrigues can concentrate on integration. It marks an impressive change in fortunes for the firm, which was left with no overseas partners after the collapse of the Andersen network
“We think there’s a place for an Ibero-American law firm. We have the largest law firm in our country and we’re the ones who have to take the initiative,” said Alonso.
Day two concentrated on alliances that are currently working, kicking off with a trio from Western Europe representing the alliance between the UK’s Herbert Smith, Germany’s Gleiss Lutz and Belgium’s Stibbe.
Later, ;a ;contingent from emerging markets, including AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates from India and Russia’s Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, gave the independent perspective.
Then it was on to China, with Haibin Xue, the managing partner of Zhonglun W&D (the only Chinese firm with an office in London) laying out the challenges faced by international firms entering China. He reminded the audience that, despite having the largest population in the world, China’s legal market is “similar in size to that found in France”.
Krzysztof Zakrzewski, managing partner at 156-lawyer Polish firm Domanski Zakrzewski ;Palinka, meanwhile, insisted that “there’s no one model better than ;another; ;various situations are all working”.