Byrne in the USA: Wragges and known man

It’s amazing how often a certain British firm crops up in New York. Or, to be more accurate, how often one of its partners does.

Wragge & Co’s David Birch was in town last Saturday (27 October). A spot of Manhattan networking, four days back in Blighty and then Birch was back again yesterday (Thursday 1 November) for the British-American Business Association’s transatlantic awards dinner at The Pierre Hotel.

Wragges might not have a US office, but it generates more than 20 per cent of its revenue from America. And that is largely down to the efforts of lawyers such as Birch.

At the dinner last night the guest speakers included Bank of America chairman Ken Lewis, Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh and John Willard Marriott, chairman of the hotel chain that bears his name. Birch, as one of the directors of BABA, was on the top table, giving him (and Wragges) immediate access to the guest speakers.

To put it in context, this is an event that sets table hosts back $25,000 (£12,000). Slaughter and May was there – or rather, it stumped up for a table and then, according to sources, didn’t show. But it still thought the event prestigious enough for it to pay the cash so that its name was there.

For a firm such as Wragges, with no US office, exposure to these kind of companies, and at that level, is gold dust.

Now, for any normal networker, Thursday’s do would have been enough glad-handing to justify the airfare. But not Birch.

This morning (2 November), Birch popped up at another BABA event, a breakfast briefing from not one but two ambassadors.

The American ambassador to London, Robert Holmes Tuttle, and Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the British ambassador in Washington DC, gave a select audience (including your correspondent) the benefit of their thoughts on cross-Atlantic business. Birch, who in case you’d forgotten is a partner at a Birmingham-based firm, featured prominently.

There’s more than one way to skin the US legal market.

Gibson drops China hint
31 October 2007

You heard it here first: Gibson Dunn & Crutcher will follow up the launch of its Dubai office with another new overseas outpost, this time in China.

Now, this isn’t the official line from the firm. But once you get the travel bug, it’s hard to stop. The firm is due to return to the Middle East before the end of the year, having binned its Riyadh office in 1998, and all indications are that it is planning a similar volte face further east.

And frankly, it needs to. Strong as Gibson Dunn is in the US, it still has virtually no visibility abroad, at least in comparison with its major rivals. As we reported yesterday (The Lawyer, 29 October), a whopping 793 of its total 884 lawyers are based in the US.

Despite this Gibson Dunn likes to think of itself as an international, even global law firm. But it’s hard to convince the market – and more importantly, clients – that the firm is truly international without that all-important office coverage.

Which is why Gibson Dunn won’t stop its expansion with Dubai. Although managing partner Ken Doran won’t give any details, it’s pretty clear from what he says that China is currently featuring high on Gibson Dunn’s strategic agenda.

“We’re continuing to look at Asia. We’re taking a very hard look now whether there is a case for us to be there,” he says. “We’re engaged in discussions to see whether or not there is a case.” Sounds like a ‘yes’ to me.

The exact location of Gibson’s newest international office, as with the timing, is still under wraps. Doran says it could involve Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, or even Singapore or Tokyo.

“We’re also looking at our ability to service clients in India,” he adds. So he’s not giving many clues. But a gambler might think a bet on a mainland China office within 12 months is worth a few quid.

Matt Byrne, associate editor
matt.byrne@thelawyer.com

To read earlier instalments of Matt’s Byrne in the USA blog click here.