Baker & McKenzie: long experience pays in Europe

Global powerhouse Baker & McKenzie is also one of the leading firms in Europe, with extensive capability across the continent

Baker & McKenzie was one of the early movers when it came to international expansion, with Europe one of its first target regions for growth outside the Americas. Now, as research for The Lawyer’s European 100 2014 shows, the firm is comfortably the second-largest firm on the continent. Its 18 European offices employ over 2,500 people and collectively turn over over €500m, just over a quarter of Baker & McKenzie’s global revenue.

The figures make it significantly larger and richer than the biggest independent European firms, although spread across a wider geographical area.

But the firm’s management does not see Europe as a separate piece of Baker & McKenzie’s international strategy.

“We don’t have a specific European strategy which is different from the firm’s global strategy,” explains Europe, Middle East and Africa chair Koen Vanhaerents. “What we do in Europe goes hand in glove with what we’re doing at a global level.”

Executive committee member Gary Senior adds: “Our strategy involves us being in the major commercial centres of the world, and what constitutes a major global centre has changed over time. The reason we’ve got pretty substantial offices across Europe is that we started building out these offices in an organic way since the 50s and 60s, and we’ve not done it by merger.”

Indeed Baker & McKenzie can boast that it was the first international firm to launch in several jurisdictions, notably in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), including Azerbaijan, Hungary and Ukraine. It is also the longest-standing international firm in Russia, having launched in Moscow in 1989 – although technically, Coudert Brothers was the first international firm into Russia, a year earlier.

Those Eastern European offices added to an existing substantial capability in Western Europe. The firm opened in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland in the 1950s and in France and Germany in the early 1960s. Launches since the turn of the millennium have included Austria, Luxembourg (1 October 2010) and most recently Turkey (27 October 2011).

As a result of its early movement across the continent, Baker & McKenzie is the largest international firm in Italy, Spain and Russia, and the biggest or one of the biggest in a number of others.

The old chestnut of ‘client demand’ is cited by Vanhaerents and Senior as a reason for Baker & McKenzie’s breadth across the region and indeed the world. Senior says the firm’s key clients want to be able to use the firm wherever they operate and in whatever field. “We’ve got to have a certain size to be able to do that,” he argues.

But Vanhaerents adds that size for size’s sake has never been part of the firm’s strategy.

“We’ve been careful to listen to our clients,” he says, pointing to the firm’s willingness to be flexible in the “choppy” European markets of the past few years. For example, he says, transactional lawyers have become restructuring or insolvency practitioners during the crisis and the firm has also developed compliance teams in several places.

”The southern European offices have held up quite well,” Vanhaerents says. “We haven’t seen any substantial drop in revenue. It’s helped us to carefully add resources here and there.”

Examples of additions in the past few years have included a team of finance specialists in Madrid from Mayer Brown’s Spanish ally Ramón y Cajal last year (16 July 2013).

Although Baker & McKenzie does not think of work flowing between offices as “cross-selling”, Senior and Vanhaerents say there is a significant amount of cross-border activity both within Europe and from Europe into other markets.

“Europe’s a really important part of our firm,” says Senior. “It’s an incredibly client-rich area. Clients based in Western Europe tend to be big users of Baker & McKenzie elsewhere.”

The duo find it hard to benchmark the firm against domestic outfits in individual jurisdictions, but are confident that their one-stop-shop model has enduring appeal. “If you’re a domestic firm you’ve got to have an answer as to why would clients use you,” Senior says.

Although Baker & McKenzie has no current plans to really ramp up in Europe – instead focusing its efforts on emerging markets – it will maintain its capabilities on the continent for the time being, making the most of its longstanding presence. 

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 Jurisdiction Staff  Fee-earners Lawyers  Partners  Female partners
 Austria 57 31 19 10 1
 Azerbaijan 18 11 6 1 0
 Belgium  125  79  77  28 3
 Czech Republic  58  34  24  6  0
 France  290  185  141  50  19
 Germany  347  173  158  75  6
 Hungary  61  35  28  11  2
 Italy  183  122  93  27  2
 Kazakhstan  37  22  15  3  0
 Luxembourg  62  43  34  6  0
 Netherlands  263  165  143  32  7
 Poland  130  70  47  18  5
 Russia  231  137  107  27  2
 Spain  276  180  156  47  16
 Sweden  81  47  47  35  2
 Switzerland  202  94  79  32  1
 Turkey  68  45  37  3  0
 Ukraine  84  47  39  8  2
 Total  2,571  1,522  1,250  401  69

Source: The Lawyer European 100 2014