The Leader column

The ongoing battle for control of German firm Gaedertz is pitching those of you with unsatisfied global ambitions into a real head-to-head. The cast list is starting to read like a who’s who of wannabe international players – enter Lathams, Mayer Brown & Platt, Eversheds and Norton Rose.

What is more interesting is the fight between the Americans and the English, all desperate to become the international law firm. But it is not all of the Americans, it’s non-New Yorkers which are making the running: the likes of Skadden Arps, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Debevoise & Plimpton are all trying to build up in Germany, but they’re nowhere to be seen on this one.

The New Yorkers have always been more nervous when it comes to economic downturns. If things aren’t rosy on Wall Street, they tend to stop investing overseas, and it’s rivals from Chicago and Los Angeles that take the initiative. They have the experience of breaking into New York under their belts, so they’re not so scared of trying somewhere else.

Let’s face it, what’s the truly international firm at the moment? It’s Chicago-born Baker & McKenzie. And while White & Case and Shearman & Sterling might have people on the ground all over the place, both have integration to work on if they’re going to come out of a US recession unscathed.

Then take a look at the other two Chicago greats – Sidley & Austin and McDermott Will & Emery. Both are pretty keen on Germany as well. And look at how they’re doing in London, sending money back to the US. Yes, you did read that right: McDermotts is actually sending money home after paying all its office expenses and paying the partners.

Weil Gotshal & Manges is doing the same apparently, and so is LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae. Like White & Case and Shearmans, they’re New Yorkers that have done a nice job in London, with plenty of backing from the US.

Whether this will continue when there’s a downturn in the US remains to be seen. Sadly, there’s no one model for a successful global firm, as much as that would make things easier.

What is clear is that it’s the ones with a good mix of guts to stand out from the crowd while still having support from the US that will end up as the next generation of global players. Step forward McDermotts and Lathams, and try to grab a piece of Gaedertz on the way.