Unlike a number of the US firms in London that have been on a spending spree and recruited major players from City practices, the European firms which are attracted to London as a base to service their clients from, have been making inroads on a much smaller scale.
The type of work offered by overseas firms with a presence here ranges from the expected commercial, corporate and financial services to the more surprising private client work.
One firm that started off as a general practice is French firm Azema Selles (Cabinet Daniel Azema before 1988), which combined commercial law and property work with private client work, and has had a close association with Nottingham-based firm Browne Jacobson since 1994.
Partner David Kinch explains that Browne Jacobson was looking to set up a London office for its insurance practice. From a commercial perspective, Browne Jacobson had dealt with Peter Selles, a partner in Cabinet Daniel Azema, and when changes were afoot, it was thought that the best way forward was to bring his English law practice under the Browne Jacobson banner and raise both firms' international profile under the name of Azema Selles. Another Anglo-European alliance is that of Anglo-Danish firm Abbot King & Troens where two-thirds of the fee earners are UK-qualified.
These are not the only cross-border alliances or associations in London. On the purely continental European side, there already exists the joint office of the Alliance of European Lawyers, made up of practitioners from leading commercial firms in Europe – De Bandt Van Hecke & Lagae, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, Jeantet & Associes, Lagerlof & Lehman, Oppenhoff & Radler and Uria & Menendez.
There is also the Scandinavian Law Alliance, which operates on a similar basis, with lawyers from firms including Denmark's Kromann & Munter and Norway's Thomessen Krefting Greve Lund.
A relative latecomer to the London legal scene is Dutch firm Nauta Dutilh, which set up office here last year. Unlike the two other firms from the Netherlands with a base in London – De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek and Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot – which have links or practise under a joint name here, this newcomer is a single entity.
From the point of view of both the recent and the more established firms from overseas, London is considered an important financial centre.
The economy, if not booming, is certainly expanding. As Dieter van Wassenaer, a partner at Nauta Dutilh, asserts, for commercial European firms, in particular those with large banking practices, it makes sense to have a foothold in the City.
“A number of our banking clients are here and are expanding themselves,” he says. “For example, if you walk past Spitalfields, you can see that ABN-Amro Bank is expanding its premises and plans to more than double its staff. It is obviously sensible to follow the work.”
Many of the firms from Europe do cross-border work. As far as Nauta Dutilh is concerned, this consists of Dutch, French, Belgian and Spanish law. In the case of other firms, the mix of the jurisdictions goes further afield – it stretches from the Caribbean to Russia.
The consensus from the European firms is that, with it becoming more common for commercial clients to operate on an international basis, they will require professional services from a variety of countries in Europe.
Obviously, as one European law firm partner comments, the US firms have been making the most impact, partly because of the established New York-London monopoly for commercial work.
But the truth of the idea that “all the firms that want to be here are already here” may yet be disproved. The UK's more Euro-friendly government and a strong economy may make others want to come too.
A number of firms with London offices were unable to provide up-to-date information at the time of going to press. These include: Bingham Englar Jones & Houston, Hamilton & Co, Joel Z Robinson, Morgan & Morgan, Myers Fletcher & Gordon, Nader Law Offices, Piper & Marbury, J Scott Brown & Associates, Vinge, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker.
Chadbourne & Parke's head office is in New York; it has 400+ fee earners in total; five of the seven fee earners in London are partners, and three are UK-qualified.