Eyes of the world look to the coming year

As 1997 began, The Lawyer talked to top international lawyers about the year ahead and found they were hoping for a rewarding time, although they were also aware that there were challenges ahead.

Geoffrey Howe, managing partner, at Clifford Chance said: “1997 will see increasing competition from major US firms in Europe and Asia. There will be at least one significant international merger as there is increasing pressure on firms who are not in the first rank and require critical mass.

“There is significant growth in Asia. Hong Kong holds no surprises though. Everyone knows what the rules are and is prepared. There will be a rise in the importance of Latin America. Brazil, for example, is a huge country and international corporates and institutions will invest there, giving rise to a lot of business.”

Jonathan Goldsmith, international director of the Law Society, saw co-operation as the way forward: “Lawyers around the world need to start thinking about worldwide liberalisation. They have got to get together and think about what sort of a regime they want.

“I hope the Draft European Directive on rights of establishment will be put to bed and that it is passed and implemented in the form we knew it.”

Ian Thierry, managing partner of Freshfields, also had his eyes on Europe. He said: “We are shortly opening for business in Italy with 25 lawyers and so in 1997 we are looking for growth in our practice serving those doing business in continental Europe.

“At the same time it will be interesting to see how Hong Kong pans out this year. We are optimistic about the future of our operations there, but we have a strong regional network so we can move lawyers around if necessary.

“On a more general note, I have never known the legal market to be in such a fluid state. There is the US-UK factor with US lawyers being recruited by UK firms and UK lawyers being recruited by US law firms. There are difficulties for small to medium-sized firms who are getting squeezed and then there is the Trojan Horse of the accountants.”

In Moscow, Doran Doeh, Allen & Overy's resident partner, was looking forward to a year of growth: “The buzz is that it actually looks like 1997 might be a relatively stable year for the first time since 1991. It could be a good year for business.”

On the antipodean front Duncan Walls, resident partner at Allens Arthur Robinson's London office, said: “The economy in Australia is not recovering as well as here.

“Australian firms are beginning to feel insecure again and the medium-sized firms are finding that the same issues are touching them as medium-sized firms here.

“Australians firms must differentiate themselves from the English and American firms if they are to succeed.”