The Lawyer Global 100 Unveiled

The Boston Red Sox’s first World Series title since 1918 came last week (for those genteel readers who don’t know, they’re a baseball team). It’s being billed as one of the most startling sporting results of all time.

Even more startling is the fact that the Americans still have the gall to call this local tournament ‘the World Series’. A showdown between the St Louis Cardinals and a rated outfit from South America, Northern Europe or Cameroon – now that would be something.

The global legal market is slightly more rounded. On 15 November The Lawyer, in association with The American Lawyer, will produce the Global 100 2004. The groundbreaking research will show 14 UK firms featuring prominently in a list that reflects a £29,489bn market.

There are also three Australian firms in what is frankly an astonishing performance for a country of just 20 million people. One each from the Netherlands, France and Canada make up the other entries to the global elite.

The UK firms have particular cause to celebrate. Four of the top six largest firms in the world – no prizes for guessing who – are UK-based. Together the four contribute £3.1bn.

It’s not just about turnover either. The UK firms are winning the battle for the exportation of legal services hands down. Of the top 10 firms ranked by the percentage of lawyers outside their home jurisdiction, seven are from the UK. And thanks to the better mix of premium business that your average globally-minded UK giant possesses, they’re extracting a decent profit out of that expansionist model too.

Coudert, for example, makes the top 10 ‘lawyers abroad’ table with 64 per cent of its lawyers outside the US; but it comes in a lowly 98th on profits with £257,000. Compare that with Freshfields, the second most internationalised firm in the world, with 66 per cent of its lawyers abroad. It lies 25th in profits with £678,000.

There’s no doubt that the exchange rate has helped, with the weak dollar inevitably a disadvantage for US firms. But the gut feeling is that UK firms are simply better-managed organisms. There is a stronger management culture in UK firms because, without the equivalent cash cow of New York, there has to be.

If the Linklaters of this world are going to put more emphasis on utilisation rates, attrition rates and every angle of management than many of their US cousins, then who can moan when the results are there for all to see?

Now is that what you call a home run?