The Leader Column

The 10 best-performing London offices of US firms generated revenues of almost £320m last year. Only 12 of the top 50 US firms (ranked by worldwide revenue) do not have a presence in London, and the average London outpost now boasts more than 60 fee-earners. Of course, there remains the odd solely representative office – seven of the 38 top 50 US firms in London employ less than 10 fee-earners. Nevertheless, in several cases, the London offices are generating upwards of 10 per cent of their firm's worldwide revenue – and with one firm enjoying a $4m (£2.8m) profit share per equity partner last year, it is clear why US firms are still clamouring to gain a presence in the City.
But when The Lawyer conducted a survey last July of 25 US firms with offices in London, it found that only nine had London-based partners on their most senior strategic committees. Of those, only five were UK-qualified. But times are changing. A key component for Rowe & Maw in its recent merger with Mayer Brown & Platt was just that – autonomy for London. It did well, too – three voting partners and a participating seat on the 13-strong management committee, and Paul Maher will co-chair the firm's international committee, allowing him to run the new firm's European operations. White & Case, too, has just devolved more power to its London practice heads, while Morgan Lewis & Bockius relocated senior corporate partner Peter Wallace to London to coordinate interaction between the firm's European offices.
One reason for this apparent shift is clearly the goings-on on the Continent, where activity has been frenetic. Just look at Latham & Watkins. In 2001, it swallowed up the Hamburg office of Gaedertz before steaming in for the Paris office of Stibbe, and most recently it launched in Brussels.
However, while the US firms have maintained their forward momentum throughout 2001, it hasn't all been good news. The London offices of many US firms might claim to be immune from the cutbacks and redundancies being made at their head offices – and some have certainly helped insulate themselves by significantly racking up the number of UK-qualified lawyers employed in London. But there have been cutbacks. Not all US firms are sending home bucketloads of cash – far from it – and few would argue that their corporate practice is too busy to cope with any more work. So how many will have the courage to stick out a potentially sticky 2002? And which will buckle under the pressure, and 'do a Buchanan'?