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Law Firm Expansion: What to consider when expanding a law firm

  • MARY K YOUNG, Partner, Zeughauser Group, Washington D.C.
    Moving the Global Law Firm Through a Challenging Economy: Focus on Strategy
  • DAVID SYED, Senior Partner - Europe, Orrick, Paris
    Changing Supply & Demand for Global Legal Services: The Multi-polar Dynamic
  • JOHN H. STOUT, Partner, Fredrikson & Byron, Minneapolis
    The Fulfilled International Lawyer: Advice for a Successful Career
  • ADAM SMITH, General Counsel, EADS Defence & Security, Munich
    Laws are Local: How Can Corporate Legal Services Become More Global?
  • HELENA SAMAHA, General Counsel EMEA, AlixPartners, Paris
    Transcending Legal Expertise to Get to the Heart of Serving Global Clients
  • THOMAS J. SABATINO, Jr., Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Schering-Plough Corporation, New Jersey
    Musical Chairs: How Today’s General Counsel Earns a Seat at the Top Executive Table
  • NORM RUBENSTEIN, Partner, Zeughauser Group, Washington D.C.
    The Key to Credible International Branding
  • JOLENE OVERBECK, Chief Marketing Officer, DLA Piper, New York City
    Moving the Global Law Firm Through a Challenging Economy: Focus on Strategy
  • MICHAEL O’NEILL, SVP and General Counsel, Lenovo Corporation, Washington D.C.
    Fit for Global: Operating Tenets for the General Counsel
  • MARY MULLALLY, Head of Networks, Practical Law Company, London
    How Corporate Counsel in the UK and Europe are Changing, and the Key Elements of Success
  • DEBORAH MCMURRAY, CEO and Strategy Architect, Content Pilot LLC, Dallas
    LAW FIRM 4.0: Considerations for the Global Law Firm in 2020
  • CHRIS MARSHALL, Pro Bono & Community Manager, Reed Smith and Chair, Board of Trustees, Advocates for International Development, London
    International Pro Bono – Broadening our Geographical Reach
  • BRUCE MacEWEN, Founder, “Adam Smith Esq.,”, New York City
    Re-thinking Your Global Strategy: Geography, Talent and Management
  • DESPINA KARTSON, Chief Marketing Officer, Latham & Watkins LLP, New York City
    The Role of Law Firm Values in Successful Global Expansion
  • PETER KALIS, Chairman and Global Managing Partner, K&L Gates LLP, New York City
    The Signature Legal Challenge of the 21st Century
  • ALAN JENKINS, Chairman, Eversheds LLP, London
    Understanding the Importance of Culture in Managing a Global Law Firm
  • FADI HAMMADEH, General Counsel, Dubai Properties Group, Dubai
    The Regulatory Pendulum Worldwide: Where are we Headed?
  • ANN LEE GIBSON, Ann Lee Gibson Consulting, West Plains, Missouri
    Feels Like 1990 All Over Again: Law Firm Economic Cycles
  • TIM S. GLASSETT, Former General Counsel, Hilton Hotels Corporation, Beverly Hills, CA
    Building and Motivating a High-Performing Global Legal Team
  • ROSS FISHMAN, CEO, Fishman Marketing, Highland Park, Illinois
    Focus: The Benefits of a Narrow Scope in the Face of Global Opportunity
  • JAN EIJSBOUTS, former General Counsel, Akzo Nobel, Amsterdam
  • E. LEIGH DANCE, President, ELD International, Inc., New York and Rome
    Introduction and European Counsel Must Improve Compliance
  • BRUNO COVA, Partner, Paul Hastings, Milan
    Reflections on Moving Inside to Outside, and European Counsel Must Improve Compliance
  • JEFFREY CARR General Counsel, FMC Technologies, Houston
    Building a Better Legal Service Delivery System
  • PETER J. BESHAR EVP and General Counsel, Marsh & McLennan Companies, New York City
    Living Through a Corporate Crisis and Preparing for What Might Come Next
  • DEREK BENTON Director of International Operations, Lexis-Nexis Martindale-Hubbell, London
    Lawyers Network Differently as the World Grows Flatter

The art of successful law firm expansion

Note:  this article is excerpted from the July/August 2008 issues of ABA Law Practice Management magazine, “Bloom Where You’re Planted” by E. Leigh Dance .  For the complete article go to :  http://www.eldinternational.com/Downloads/PDF/1220527476.pdf

There are so many questions to be answered in global law firm expansion: which markets and what practice mix?  Multinational client targets or local targets?  Buy or build?  US law, local law, third-country law? What support infrastructure?  Law firm expansion is a lot to manage, yet for all its complexity, law firm growth internationally inevitably comes down to some basic rules and practices. 

Successful global law firm expansion can bring huge value to your firm in terms of lawyer retention, lateral hiring, competitive distinction and client development.  It is difficult to measure, yet in hindsight very apparent (think of the super globals such as Linklaters who struggled with law firm expansion in the mid to late 90s) and now thrive.

A sort of Farmer’s Almanac could be useful to collect all the global law firm expansion lessons.  We see successes and failure with global law firm expansion efforts, and an almanac of these lessons would help. 

Imagine law firms as big plantations or gardens-- with partners as the farmers.  These experienced farmers start with basic questions, and partners addressing global law firm expansion should ask the same: 

What can we grow most successfully?

What are the crops in greatest demand?

How can we learn to grow more of the crops that are in demand?

Where else can the crops that are most successful for us be cultivated? 

What are the environmental conditions we need for a plentiful harvest?

What can we realistically take on this season, from cultivation to harvest?

Like successful gardening, successful global law firm expansion requires information, perseverance, resources, stamina, some luck… and a plan.  The rewards can be great, as we can all see from the client rosters and profits per equity partner of many global law international firms.  Here are a few tips to approaching global law firm expansion so that your international offices bloom wherever they are planted.

1)  Make sure you have a global law firm expansion plan.  If you want successful law firm growth, you need to know who you are, why you want to expand and how you intend to succeed with your new offices.  Planning ahead seems so obvious, and law firm management may think the vision and objectives are crystal clear—but often they are not. 

2)  Global law firm expansion should start with your strengths.  Wherever you go, focus on what your firm does best.  Any new office capability should be reasonably consistent with the firm’s overall practice and industry expertise.  Buyers of legal services around the world seek expertise and experience more than ever, and studies continually show that this expertise is the motivation for them to try your firm’s lawyers in a new location.   After all, you’re not building new out-posts, you’re building bridges for your clients.  The firm’s strengths are the foundation of those bridges.

Much of the effort (and the pay-off) of global law firm expansion comes only after it is integrated effectively with the rest of the firm.  To clients, the new office must have a viable connection to the firm’s value proposition. 

3)  Do your homework:  due diligence and competitive analysis.  Employ these business disciplines to evaluate the economics of opening an office in a foreign location.  One of the biggest challenges for global law firm expansion is determining scale of the local offices.  Can firms with a limited presence take business from premier local firms for major transactions?  Often they cannot.  The most successful global law firms have thought this through, and possess either a well-defined target market and niche expertise to make them a formidable competitor in a selected area, or they have established loyal clients at home who agree to retain them in the new market.

4)  Pay attention to the typical issues of launching an international office.  Whether in Beijing or Berlin, global law firm expansion must address specific local issues.  This is not rocket science, but if you are a novice, it is easy to get it wrong.  You will undoubtedly make mistakes, but learn how  how to avoid the typical areas where global law firms continually trip up, such as:   

  • Effectively identify which current clients of the firm can benefit from the new office and make effective introductions
  • Interpret local market dynamics correctly and adjust practices and business development approach to win business in the new market
  • Entice local lawyers with a good client base and talented associates to join the office, in the short and mid-term.

5)  Get ready for a major time commitment.  Be realistic about the leadership attention and management focus required global law firm expansion, and dedicate what it takes.  Because of the pressure to for law firm growth internationally, many firms overlook the substantial time and attention needed to be successful in each new market.   Without the right oversight, problems typically arise, it is harder to get the talent or clients it needs to gain momentum, and law firm performance eventually suffers.  Institutional assets may begin walking out the door. 

6)   Keep your eye on the local ball.  -  Avoid the cultural pitfalls.   Local offices of law firms, whether in Abu Dhabi or Amsterdam, must be prepared to understand and address many different and very market-specific issues.  Every international firm is wise to have consistent processes and steps for opening international offices, so that the wheel isn’t reinvented each time.  But every country is different (to put it mildly), the law is different and local adaptation and flexibility is always required in certain areas.  The issues can range from complex approval processes and bar regulations for the new office, to widely diverse approaches to serving international corporate clients, to different traditions and mores for client entertainment.

Want to learn more about law firm expansion? Get your copy of Bright Ideas: Insights from Legal Luminaries Worldwide today!


Profits from Bright Ideas book sales will go to Advocates for International Development, an international pro bono organization.  www.A4ID.org

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