Rumours of a US invasion may be exaggerated

Lateral movement may be good for the headhunters but it is bad news for law firms; and rumours abound of impending US arrivals in Iberia.

Madrid may already be awash with English firms – 13 of the top 20 London firms have a presence, with Bird & Bird the most recent arrival – but among the US contingent, Jones Day currently enjoys a relatively clear field.

Squire Saunders & Dempsey folded into DLA Piper, while Baker & McKenzie has been around for so long that local clients no longer think of it as foreign. Of the Wall Street elite, only Davis Polk & Wardwell has a notional, though highly successful, presence.

The thinking traditionally has been that Iberia didn’t have sufficient cross-border M&A activity or the demand for securities advice to fuel US law firm interest – although the recent multi-billion-euro takeovers clearly prove this no longer to be true. Among the firms now thought to be scouting the market are White & Case, Shearman & Sterling, Latham & Watkins and Dewey Ballantine.

The belief is that the US firms that previously considered an Iberian opening have been unable to attract the right calibre of lawyer. Will anyone be tempted this time round?
US pay rates may be a step above the English law firms in Madrid, but the demand for billable hours may yet prove a disincentive. The perception remains that the work-life balance in US firms tends to swing only one way.