Winston & Strawn opening in London? Are they mad? The initial response is probably yes. With the state of the UK market at the moment, one might surmise that the Chicago firm's management has been taking a few too many happy pills. Just look at the evidence. A number of UK firms have begun making redundancies, including Osborne Clarke, KLegal, Denton Wilde Sapte, Tite & Lewis and Masons – the list just gets longer and longer. It doesn't exactly send out a positive message to our transatlantic cousins.
In addition, many predict that some US law firms in London may find survival tough in today's market. So far there has been only a smattering of US firms that have suffered in London. Remember Winston & Strawn's fellow Chicago firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal? That firm closed its London office in 1999, well before the economy started biting. Dechert has trimmed, as did Buchanan Ingersoll, but it hasn't been as bad as some may have expected.
It's worth sitting back and thinking about this. First, Winston & Strawn has been musing over expansion for a long time, since March in fact, when chairman James Thompson was quoted in the US press about his hopes of establishing a UK presence. The initial thought seems to have been to get into London through a merger, although that appears to be on the backburner at the moment with the firm plumping for organic growth instead.
Second, US firms – which, like their investment banking colleagues, prefer to keep things lean and mean – have been decidedly more proactive about taking the axe to their partnerships – Shearman & Sterling for one.
Third, and most importantly, Winston & Strawn is emphatic on the point that the move comes from client demand. So while on the surface economic concerns might scare the living daylights out of any firm even contemplating expansion, if the strategy is there then why not? Winston & Stawn is sure to have scouted out the cost element of opening in London and if the work wasn't there to back up that investment, why would it make the leap? The UK market is remarkably fluid at the moment in terms of recruitment and we can only guess that there are a few City dwellers out there who would be glad to get rid of leases on all that extra space they took when times were good.So before anyone starts scoffing at Winston & Strawn, they should mull it over. It might not be as mad as it seems.