The Spanish monster prepares for Europe

Last year, respected Spanish firm J&A Garrigues invited leading firms across Europe, including Simmons & Simmons from the UK, to mark the 30th year of the Club de Abogados – “the first European club of lawyers” – which the Spanish firm helped set up.

But founding partner Antonio Garrigues stresses the “club was set up in May 1966, when integrated European legal networks were completely unheard of.”

Last week J&A Garrigues announced its merger with Andersen ALT, the legal division of Arthur Andersen in Spain, to form J&A Garrigues Andersen. With over 500 lawyers, the firm is double the size of its nearest domestic rival, and has been described by one competitor as “a monster in terms of the Spanish market”.

However, once again international concerns were at the forefront of Garrigues' reasoning for the link up. “We think all serious law firms should keep one eye on the future, which will be see more globalisation'” he says. “We looked at who the key players are globally and saw Andersens were well equipped.”

Garrigues says the distinctions between what is good for a firm internationally and nationally have become increasingly blurred. He insists there is a “pure combination of domestic and global benefits from the merger”.

Domestically, the alliance of Andersen ALT's dominant tax practice and Garrigues' general corporate strength has a synergy which is the stuff of management consultants' dreams. Globally, Garrigues is anticipating the ascendant position US and UK firms will take in the emerging cross-border market for legal services. Joining the Andersen's Worldwide Legal Network is a pre-emptitive move preventing a freeze out from the lucrative global client market.

However, Garrigues does not envisage a passive role, hiding behind the parent organisation. “I will be involved in expanding the network in Europe and world-wide,” he stresses. “My firm already has interests in South America where the same issues of globalisation are developing with the US influence. My role for the network will be to attract other important domestic firms into the group. “

John Byrne, managing partner of Freshfields Spain, says: “They were a strong firm nationally, but needed to address the international market.” He claims Andersen will benefit from the Garrigues' name in the local market.

While accepting globalisation as a response to client needs, Byrne rejects the claim that those same clients want to do all their shopping for professional services in one stop. “Sophisticated clients will want high-quality, high-value work done by specialist law firms with a tradition of complex structuring work. This merger will not increase competition at the higher end in Spain,”

Julia Chain, managing partner at Garrett & Co, the UK piece of the Andersen's legal jigsaw, disagrees. “One-stop shops are a response to the needs of large multi-nationals,” she says.