Robert Lindsay reports from the International Bar Association's annual conference in Vancouver.
Leading New York firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has started hiring Europeans and English-qualified lawyers to give it the option of moving into European law.
In a break with its tradition as a Wall Street practice which sends lawyers abroad on temporary assignments, it has created permanent European, Asian and Latin American practice groups. Partner Paul Ford explained: "For the first time we have professionals who will devote the bulk of their career to developing one of those practice areas."
Ford, speaking at a globalisation session at the Vancouver IBA conference, said for the time being his firm would remain practising only US law. But he said it had begun hiring English-qualified solicitors and re-training them in US law and was hiring US-qualified Europeans. He said the firm was only doing this as a "precautionary" measure in case it became necessary to move into local law.
He said the firm had been forced to react to the euro and the "vibrant" market it will create for legal transactions. He said his firm had not previously seen a need to have a permanent practice outside New York, nor to practise law other than US law. But he said: "The EU's emergence has led us to re-examine our premises."
For now, he said: "We are going to get stronger in Europe doing US law and you [European lawyers] are going to get stronger doing European law. At some point we'll see if it comes together."
He stressed that the hiring of US lawyers by English firms would not stop his firm referring work to them. Similarly, he said: "At some point we may be forced to practise German law but even then we would like to think that we could continue to call on independent German law firms for advice."
At the same session, Freshfields capital markets head Stephen Revell said his firm's alliance with Germany's Deringer Tessin would lead to a single partnership sharing profits on a lock-step. He said his firm believed this was the best way to merge.
But Hildebrandt consultant Marc Bartel, soon to be Linklaters & Alliance secretary general, said: "Financial issues are often used as an excuse not to do the deal. Profit sharing differences are not such a major issue. We don't have to have everyone equal."