K&L Gates’ Kalis renews attack on Swiss Vereins in video interview

K&L Gates chairman and global managing partner Peter Kalis has renewed his attack on the Swiss Verein model of law firm growth, disputing whether there has been a growing “market acceptance” for the structure.

In a video interview (scroll down to watch) to accompany this week’s cover story on K&L Gates’ decision to publish unprecedented level of detail in its year-end financials, Kalis claims that it is not clear to him that there has been “material market acceptance” of the verein approach to international growth.

“When you do a tour of the major markets in the US and focus on the premier firms there’s nary a verein to be seen,” says Kalis. “Even here in London, your magic circle obviously is not going that route, I don’t think it ever will go that route. The verein is a bet by certain law firm leaders that they can share a brand, call it a law firm and over time it will evolve into an integrated enterprise. The flaw in the logic is simply that experience suggests to the contrary. The point of leverage for integration is at the time of merger, not at some illusory date downstream.”

In January K&L Gates secured its most recent merger, with Australian firm Middletons (4 December 2012), a deal that was structured with full financial integration and which is thought to have seen the US firm assume several million dollars of the acquired firm’s debt.

The cost of the Middletons merger is referred to in K&L Gates’ 2012 financial results, a report that also contained a higher level of detail than usual on items such as debt, equity partner capital contributions and geographic revenue.

Asked if he had had a specific reason for going on the front foot over the financial results, Kalis replied: “I was born with two front feet.”

In today’s video Kalis also discusses collaborative versus carnivorous behaviour in law firms; the development of K&L Gates’ London office from legacy Nicholson Graham & Jones to a key plank in a billion dollar practice; and the issues raised by integrating global teams in a firm that has grown so rapidly.

For more, see this week’s feature.