Taking control of the world's biggest firm

Christine Lagarde is taking over one of the biggest jobs in the profession at an interesting time.

She is taking control of Baker & McKenzie at a time when its position as global number one is set to face its biggest ever challenge from the merged superfirms.

Having a network of offices is one thing but having a network of firms with local knowledge and influence is quite another. If the superfirms bed down as they hope, they are set to provide the sort of local/global service that Lagarde's firm has long claimed as its own.

But at another level, she is taking over a truly multinational company. She heads up a massive workforce and part of her brief is to manage those men and women.

It is easy in a business the size of Baker & McKenzie to forget that the names on the balance sheet are real people who want financial rewards, certainly; challenging work, obviously. But they also want to feel they have a stake in their firm. Baker & McKenzie as a long-established giant and Lagarde as a long-time Baker & McKenzie woman are in an ideal place to show the younger superfirms how that can be done.

It is an obvious point – some would say a cheap shot – to mention that Linklaters and Allen & Overy came second and fourth in The Lawyer 100 survey of gross fees and that these same firms are looking to save a few pounds by laying off a receptionist, a secretary and a cook as well as local lawyers from their Russian offices.

Leaving aside the picture this gives to local businesses and indeed the Russian people, the fact that the UK firms have chosen to make cuts in local expertise first is short-sighted. Firms hoping to do business in complex cultures and political situations such as in Russia need as many ways in as they can get, getting rid of local legal knowledge and local goodwill will not help.