International legal alliances are possibly the worst way of doing cross-border business. They’re fraught with cultural conflict, require unbelievable amounts of management time and deliver questionable service to clients.
No wonder they’re doomed to founder. As we reveal this week, Field Fisher Waterhouse has declared hostilities on former alliance member Buse Heberer Fromm following a long legal tradition of hissy fits among the former best buddies. DLA did the same thing to Görg, as did Linklaters with Gianni and De Brauw years ago. The list is endless.
And which firm bucks the trend? Slaughter and May, of course – the one firm in the legal universe to pull off the trick of being both establishment and iconoclastic. Slaughters’ best friends network is indecently thriving, and now it’s turning its sights on Asia with its first-ever session with elite independent firms in the region.
Helped by a little-publicised partner secondment programme, Slaughters already has a close relationship with Jun He – the only Chinese firm attending its inaugural Asia summit last week. However, it has also kept its options open through cordial links with King & Wood and Haiwan Law Firm.
Meanwhile, Slaughters’ ties with Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, Bredin Prat, Hengeler Mueller and Uría Menéndez are far closer than many lawyers realise. While other associations work like dysfunctional siblings, this lot are as cosy as the family Von Trapp. None of the above are likely to be tempted by a better offer from any firms elsewhere.
These relationships are not just at the senior partner level, but permeate through the firm, especially in M&A and finance. Partners meet on a regular basis – not just to discuss operational issues and common policy on due diligence, but also to talk about knotty strategic decisions. They share client lists. They have business planning sessions. They carry out an extensive associate secondment programme. Senior partner Tim Clark spends a huge chunk of his time visiting peers abroad, although in classic Slaughters style he eschews commercial travel in favour of piloting his own plane.
Slaughters partners have a nice line in calculated insouciance. This gentlemanly amateurism is entirely bogus, but it serves its purpose. Whereas most firms merge and create common brands before diving into the operational implications, Slaughters has gone at it from the other way round. Stealthy – but very, very effective.