Lawyer2B.coms sister magazine The Lawyer was dominated by international issues this week. On the front it reported that Indian law firms are suffering a salary war because of the arrival of UK firms on the scene. Meanwhile, magic circle firm Allen & Overy is recruiting like crazy to satisfy demand in its booming Middle Eastern offices
The Lawyer also reported on how US firms are doing in London and UK firms and their alliances (see feature). This is all because of the globalisation of the legal profession.
It costs money to open offices, and often there wasn’t enough of it. This caused a wave of embarrassing defections and departures from whole continents. CMS Cameron McKenna and Denton Wilde Sapte are just two examples of firms that have made wholesale retreats from Asia in recent years.
So the next tier of the UK mid-market has looked at the lessons of the City firms and chosen a different path – networks and alliances. Were talking about firms such as Camerons, Eversheds and Nabarros here. Theyre essentially following Slaughter and Mays best friends model and frankly, if it’s good enough for Slaughters, it’s good enough for anybody.
Oh, and it’s much cheaper to sign up a best friend rather than launch your own office. And its quicker than slowly building your own presence with a lateral hire here and there.
But one firm does stand out among the mid-market. Bird & Bird, or 2Birds as it is sometimes known, has eschewed alliances in favour of growth through choice hires and mergers.
It has doggedly pursued globalisation by focusing on its core strengths, and being selective when recruiting in those areas. Cannily, it has also grown and managed its cost base and equity (thats the number of partners who share in the firms profit) carefully. Its revenue has ballooned by 84 per cent during the last five years, and all through that period profit has grown rapidly.
Once upon a time, 2Birds marketed itself as a European Law Firm, but in today’s market, being a European law firm is no longer good enough. So the firm has now set its sights on Dubai and India.
It has recruited a big hitter Nipun Gupta from White & Case to launch an Indian practice. Gupta, who previously worked for the worlds richest man Lakshmi Mittal, said: “You have to follow your instincts. When I left Nabarro for Lakshmi Mittal, everyone thought I was mad. And then when I left Lakshmi everyone said, ‘Now we know you’re mad’.”
2Birds has apparently paid a small fortune to secure the services of the well-connected Gupta, but it is an investment in quality. The firm has just lost its former chairman Hamish Sandison to rival Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and this is a coup for FFW, but it’s primarily a domestic, public sector play. Internationally, FFW, like much of the rest of the mid-market, is playing catch-up.