Anywhere and everywhere | Feature | Law Gazette
International law networks are in the ascendancy – and Covid-19 is one reason for this. Unlike global law firms, which rely on their own offices in key jurisdictions around the world, networks are made up of independent firms. Proponents of the model say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
‘Put simply, we achieve more on a bigger scale and build more sustainable relationships across the globe as a member of a network,’ says Michael Pattinson, the Trowers & Hamlins partner who manages the firm’s ‘strategic’ partnership with Interlaw, an ‘elite’ global network of independent law firms with 7,500 lawyers based in over 150 cities.
Pattinson, a board director of Interlaw, says: ‘From cost saving to business development opportunities, to peace of mind for the client in having access to firms that genuinely understand the local culture, the advantages are testament to the important role that networks play in the legal sector right now.’
Legal referral networks first emerged in the early 1980s. Many operate on the basis of geographic exclusivity (one firm per country), but others allow member firms the flexibility to work with a variety of counterparts. Networks are not just designed for the smaller outfits with no foreign outposts and often complement firms’ own international offerings. Most charge membership fees.
Trowers & Hamlins is the Interlaw member for England and Wales, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE. As Pattinson explains: ‘If a client finds that they need our assistance in a jurisdiction where we do not have our own presence, we are able to draw upon our partners in the network.
‘The agility and flexibility of being part of a network which works with the “best in class” in each jurisdiction encourages better service delivery.’
Lewis Silkin has been a member of Ius Laboris since 2003. Like Interlaw, the network is a one-member-per-country ‘best-of-breed’ alliance and membership is by invitation, explains Lewis Silkin chair and partner Michael Burd.
The firm was approached about possible membership for the UK in 2003. At the time it was dealing with a growing number of transnational instructions by ‘trying to manage, literally, dozens of relationships with single firms in different countries’. But that experience was ‘always dicey’, Burd recalls. ‘We were considering how best to achieve consistent quality of international coverage, and to do that with greater ease,’ he says. ‘Opening offices in multiple countries is expensive, management-intensive and very risky. Ius Laboris was the best answer for us, and so it has proved to be.
‘It has made a huge difference to us to have an organised and coherent offering globally, and that has shown in the very significant growth we have experienced in transnational work since becoming a member,’ he adds.
TerraLex describes itself as a ‘voluntary association of independent law firms’ and ‘each TerraLex member retains the right to work with any law firm or client’. For Tim Anderson and Geraldine Elliott, partners at TerraLex member RPC, this flexibility is crucial. ‘Often we’ll find that if the local member firm doesn’t have the expertise to support on a specific mandate, they will know excellent local lawyers who can,’ says Anderson. ‘This in contrast to “global” firms, where there will be pressure from HQ to use the firm’s local office even if that might not always offer the best solution for clients.’
‘Our view is that networks are increasingly coming into their own and, more and more, are being preferred to the traditional global or verein model,’ Elliott says. The difference between a network and a global firm on this measure is the scale of jurisdictional reach. TerraLex gives RPC access to 113 countries, with around 20,000 lawyers at its disposal.
Charles Brooks is a partner at Pennington Manches and board member of Multilaw, which boasts 90 member firms across more than 100 jurisdictions, and access to 10,000 lawyers. ‘Our overseas offices and membership of Multilaw are part of our international strategy, and cannot be taken in isolation,’ he says. Following the 2019 merger with Thomas Cooper, the firm now has five overseas offices, including in São Paulo and Madrid, and there has since been ‘a good cross-fertilisation’ between those offices and other Multilaw members in South America. ‘I can see that collaboration increasing as markets begin to open up again,’ Brooks says.
Even the world’s largest law firm is not eschewing networks; in fact, it has created one. Despite having offices across 189 locations in 77 countries, Dentons did not have a presence everywhere its clients did business. ‘We founded Nextlaw Referral Network to give us the geographic presence and subject matter expertise to make it more likely that we would have access to exactly the same talent for our clients’ requirements wherever we do business,’ says Nextlaw CEO Paul Hatch. It is by far the largest law network today, contends Hatch, with firms in 200 countries and more than 35,000 lawyers. It does not charge any fees and accepts ‘any law firm, regardless of size or location’ that provides quality client service. Moreover, it does not allow any one member to enjoy geographic exclusivity.
So what are the benefits to member firms? Number one is referrals. Networks feed on ‘longstanding and close relationships’ between members and the ‘confidence to recommend our partners and clients to those contacts [and vice versa]’, says Brooks.
Advantages also derive from ‘much greater professionalism’ in how these associations ...
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