Alliance defiance

There’s a theme running through this week’s issue: globalisation. After the magic circle blazed a trail of internationalisation in 1989, the likes of Nabarro Nathanson, Norton Rose and Simmons & Simmons played catch-up with mixed results. Remember Lovell White & Durrant and Denton Hall? They were the first UK firms go fully operational in China in 1993.

It costs money to open offices, and often there wasn’t enough of it. This caused a wave of embarrassing defections and departures from whole continents. Witness Camerons’ and Dentons’ retreats from Asia .

So the next tier have looked at the lessons of the City firms and chosen a different path – networks and alliances (see feature, page 18). Frankly, it it’s good enough for Slaughters, it’s good enough for anybody.

Oh, and by the way, it’s cheaper. And quicker.

But one firm does stand out among the mid-market. Bird & Bird has eschewed alliances in favour of growth through choice hires and mergers.

It has doggedly pursued globalisation by focusing on its core strengths, and being selective when recruiting in those areas. Cannily, it has also grown and managed its cost base and equity carefully. Its revenue has ballooned by 84 per cent during the last five years, and all through that period profit has grown rapidly.

Once upon a time, 2Birds marketed itself as a European Law Firm, but in today’s market, being a European Law Firm is no longer good enough. So the firm has now set its sights on Dubai and India (see news story, left).

As new recruit Nipun Gupta, who joins from White & Case to launch an Indian practice, says: “You have to follow your instincts. When I left Nabarro for Lakshmi Mittal, everyone thought I was mad. And then when I left Lakshmi everyone said, ‘Now we know you’re mad’.”

Bird & Bird has apparently paid a small fortune to secure the services of the well-connected Gupta, but it is an investment in quality. The capture of Bird & Bird’s former chairman Hamish Sandison is a coup for Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW), but that’s primarily a domestic, public sector play. Internationally, FFW is playing catch-up.