Eversheds Europe: local knowledge in an international wrapper

Eversheds has built up an extensive network of local European knowledge, which international chair Alan Murphy says will continue to grow.

“It would be presumptive for me, as an Irishman, to say I know the Hungarian market,” admits Eversheds’ international chair Alan Murphy when asked about the advantages of the firm’s European model.

Murphy is referring to the development of Eversheds’ European presence, which over the years has seen it establish the firm’s brand in 17 Continental jurisdictions. Unlike some of its rivals, the firm has chosen to find local firms to work with, usually moving from an association to full integration over a number of years.

The strategy hasn’t always paid off. In 2013, Eversheds shut down in Copenhagen (24 January 2013), some 15 years after launching there with local outfit Sandal Lunoe & Co (4 July 1998).

“Our model is to build a strong local indigenous business,” Murphy says, adding that while maintaining this focus, Eversheds is also moving towards more integration. For example as well as secondments between offices, lawyers are now moving permanently from one jurisdiction to another depending on business needs in the “areas du jour”, which currently include financial services.

On the branding front, most, although not all, of Eversheds’ European offices are now operating as plain ‘Eversheds’. Murphy says the plan is very much to continue this process of integration in the coming years.

The firm’s presence gives it a decent capacity in most of the jurisdictions where it is present, although Eversheds is not among the top 10 largest international players in any of the major jurisdictions in Europe. It is larger, relatively speaking, in some of the more uncommon European jurisdictions such as the Baltics, where fewer international firms are present.

Murphy sees few disadvantages to Eversheds’ model of growth-through-merger.

“I’m a genuine believer in our model,” he maintains. “The advantage is that the local offices know the territory.”

He says organic expansion into new markets can be a disadvantage where the team being taken on has little experience of law firm management.

“That’s a big part of a law firm – that it’s a business,” Murphy adds.

However, he concedes that Eversheds’ strategy is not without fault.

“One of the disadvantages of the Eversheds model is that it can be slower, because nothing is prepackaged,” he says.

Murphy points to the example of his own legacy firm, Ireland’s O’Donnell Sweeney, which joined Eversheds International in 2006 (28 November 2005) and finally dropped the ‘O’Donnell Sweeney’ name in 2011 (10 November 2011).

“The reason why we were interested in Eversheds was that at the time we were a strong local indigneous firm, but the majority of our clients were indigenous – we weren’t getting a share of the international business because our name wasn’t internationally known,” Murphy reveals. “We did genuinely feel we were a good cultural fit with Eversheds and culture is important.”

He is currently exploring countries within Europe where the firm feels there is still a gap. The Nordics are a key area of interest where Eversheds is looking for potential relationship firms or ones which will join the network fully. Murphy says the firm is in an “evolutionary phase” in Europe and cautions against being satisfied with the current offering.

“The day you stand still is the day you should go home,” he says.

Like many international firms, Eversheds is a proponent of being able to support clients across several jurisdictions, although Murphy thinks the phrase ‘one-stop-shop’ can be misused.

“Europe is a very difficult place for other regions around the world to do business in, but the number of corporations not only in America but also in Asia and Africa who are looking for an answer in Europe is only growing.

“In order to provide an effective one-stop-shop you do need to understand the cultures and know your way around the nuances of the law in different jurisdictions,” Murphy cautions. “The model needs to have an element of sophistication and flexibility about it.”

For all our European 100 coverage click here. To buy a copy of the full report, click here.

Jurisdiction Staff Lawyers Partners Equity partners
Belgium 17 13 4 4
France 112 76 16 5
Germany 165 94 25 7
Italy 48 36 11 11
Netherlands 85 50 15 15
Spain 46 36 11 11
Rest of Europe 520 350 86 52
Total 993 655 168 115