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Why UK Law Firms Are Beating US Rivals

Posted Sep 27, 2007 7:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The top five British law firms are benefiting from a robust climate for mergers and acquisitions, but they are also doing a lot of things right.

All five recently reported a 20 percent boost in profits per partner, beating many U.S. international law firms, American Lawyer reports. “In the process, they have dispelled some views of the U.K. market held stateside—that the Brits are soft on underperforming lawyers, are blindly wedded to inflexible locksteps, and take too many holidays,” the legal magazine said.

American Lawyer examined the Magic Circle practices and said these steps are helping them succeed:

  1. Globalized practices. Exhibit A is Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which has 68 percent of its lawyers outside the United Kingdom. Of the U.S. firms, only White & Case is taking the same tack, with 63 percent of its attorneys outside U.S. borders. The British firms’ investment in overseas offices has given them “first crack at the biggest corporate deals outside America.”

  2. Cost control. The Magic Circle firms are saving money by outsourcing support services and better managing back-office functions.

  3. Cutting equity partnerships. Freshfields provides a good example. It has cut more than 100 equity partners since 2004 and has since created nonequity partner positions.

Besides Freshfields, the top U.K. firms are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May, and Linklaters.

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