Leader

In this edition of The Lawyer we are publishing a special preview of The Lawyer Euro100, the first ever investigation into revenues and profits of European law firms.

Our research is timely; Europe is where the battle for global dominance will take place. Asia – China apart – is seen at the top levels of management of the magic circle as an increasing irrelevance, and in the corridors of many international firms there is open talk of scaling down Asian investment.

It’s another matter entirely in Europe. The Lawyer Euro100 makes it absolutely clear that UK and Continental firms will have to think defensively against the Americans. For the moment there’s a breathing space because of the weakness of the dollar, but the US firms can still buy talent. What’s more, they dominate the revenue per lawyer (RPL) tables, and they’re starting to move up the turnover rankings. This time next year the table could look very different.

As you can see from the charts on pages 4 and 5, UK firms dominate the European top 10. And of the UK firms, Freshfields takes the crown. Not only is it the largest firm in Europe, but its profits have stayed strong and stable and the RPL table demonstrates the quality of its business.

What’s more, its merger with Bruckhaus has been remarkably free of headaches. Just look at the restructuring Linklaters has gone through, both prior to its mergers and since. Just look at the time and effort Clifford Chance has put in to subduing its rebel province in the US. Freshfields, on the other hand, never swallowed more than it could reasonably digest, although some of the German partners, emboldened by last year’s results, may start forcing the pace on London. Neither has Freshfields lost many partners to US predators – although that may also change this year.

All in all, it’s a fitting tribute to Freshfields chief executive Alan Peck, who retires this very week. Peck – a man who speaks more German than he ever let on, and who for all his dirigiste tendencies, gently snuffed out most problems before they ever escalated – leaves the firm in good shape for his successor Hugh Crisp.

Vale, Peck. We always enjoyed the whiff of gunshot that you brought to the City, the lunches at the Savoy Grill and the laconic stage whispers. And you built Europe’s biggest law firm into the bargain. Now go and breed some labradors.