Top firms square up for battle in Europe

The race for Europe is now firmly on, as Linklaters and Clifford Chance feverishly compete to become top dog in the Continent.

Clifford Chance has undoubtedly managed to achieve this position to date but Linklaters, the sleeping giant of Europe, has now woken up and is preparing to really launch itself on the European scene.

While many UK firms have been operating on the fringes of the Continent for many years, it is only now that firms are contemplating real engagement as European economies reshape.

Privatisations and lucrative financing are there for the taking.

Continental European law firms, many of whom are extremely good, have generally had the depth of experience internationally boasted by their US/UK counterparts.

For this reason, Linklaters' chess move on the Alliance of European Lawyers is a rather smart stroke, which could pose a major threat to Clifford Chance's dominance in this market. But no-one could expect Clifford Chance to take such a challenge without a significant response.

News that it is contemplating mergers in several countries in Europe is therefore no surprise. After all, it would not like Linklaters to steal a march on it.

Clifford Chance brought a major new public relations company, Shandwick, on board earlier this year to prepare to heighten its profile internationally all part of the move to protect and develop its territory.

It has now thrown down the gauntlet, declaring intentions to double its 500 continental lawyers in the next two years, as it produces tables with figures showing how it compares with its competitors Allen & Overy, Freshfields and Linklaters.

The battle is beginning, and Clifford Chance and Linklaters have just drawn swords.