US litigators need London weight

It’s here: this week we’re publishing a preview of our exclusive annual report on global litigation, where we reveal the top 50 firms in the world by revenue.

Catrin Griffiths

Contentious work is flourishing; DLA Piper’s litigation revenues topped a billion dollars for the first time this year, with Skadden and Jones Day not too far behind. Any firm that can draw upon the deep reserves of the US litigation market is going to be favoured, so kudos to Freshfields; the magic circle firm manages to come 16th in the table with $491m revenues without merger or, indeed, a dominating presence Stateside.

Space considerations do not permit us to publish all our research in the magazine this week; if you want analysis of the litigation strategies of Siemens, Nokia, Shell, Monsanto and Walmart, data that benchmarks jurisdiction-specific headcount for 2010 and 2011, and an indication of which firms have been growing or downsizing their litigation practices in key disputes centres, it’s all in a separate and enhanced report. So if, for example, you’d also like to know which of the top 50 US firms are making the most revenue in New York, which have made the most investment over two years in Singapore and whose litigation revenues have fallen in Paris, the full research will be available to purchase on from next Monday.

As features editor Matt Byrne points out on page 22, relative litigation revenue per head is higher on the US side at the merged transatlantic firms. However, I suspect the drive on the part of giants such as DLA Piper to increase their revenue per lawyer on the English law side, while laudable in terms of business-building and ambition, is essentially doomed. The fused profession in the US doesn’t have the commercial bar creaming off extraordinarily remunerative top-of-the-pyramid contentious work. Still, it’s increasingly clear that US firms’ global litigation strategy requires investment in London first and foremost.

As Debevoise litigation co-chair John Kiernan remarks, so many deals are done with English law that US firms operating internationally need dual capability. Skadden, Quinn Emanuel, White & Case, Dechert and Debevoise have invested in top-flight UK practices without recourse to merger. The US litigation giants without a heavyweight presence in London (Baker Botts, Akin Gump, Steptoe & Johnson, Vinson & Elkins) might be advised to talk to the headhunters sooner rather than later.

Catrin Griffiths, editor

twitter: @lawyercatrin