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Global expansion popular for lawyers with in-house legal jobs

Posted by: Laurence Simons 04/12/12

Globalisation is a controversial issue, with its pros and cons hotly debated across university campuses and cultural forums. On the plus side, it means that Tesco sells pre-made sushi and Starbucks can bring its enlightened employment practices and stringent attitude towards taxation to the UK; on the other hand, it also allows British exports like One Direction to sell more than 15 million records worldwide.

What is undeniable is that it runs through the 21st century like the pattern through a stick of rock, with a recent study suggesting that in-house legal jobs are increasingly influenced by the global reputation of a prospective employer.

The report from legal researcher Acritas found that the favoured law firms among those with in-house counsel positions are those who are unafraid to dip their toes gingerly into new waters and look towards emerging markets in a bid to boost their global growth prospects.

Baker & McKenzie kept its position as the leading law firm brand among in-house workers, having been top of the index since 2009, with its strength in Asia and South America cited as a major factor in its popularity.

Furthermore, the five Magic Circle firms appear to be losing some of their steely grip around the market as smaller, ambitious rivals focus on expanding their operation across the globe and making a mark on areas that look set to become hugely important in the coming years.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy still occupy positions two, three, four and six respectively in the Acritas table, but other companies such as DLA Piper are following hot on their heels.

Lisa Hart Shepherd, Acritas chief executive officer, said: "Our research suggests a changing future distribution of global law firm brands, leading to a structure more akin to the international accountancy market."

She added that this leaves firms with two choices - either going through the difficult process of staking out a place in the international market, reacting to the uncertain changes brought about by wavering market forces, or adopting a more boutique, specialised approach.

While the former option sounds like the more macho, Christopher Columbus-style choice, trying to mix it with the big boys can be too difficult for many international law firms.

"To achieve a dominant global position, average profit per equity partner will have to be sacrificed and long-term investment will be crucial to the successful execution of such an ambitious strategy. For most, this will be too large a sacrifice," said Ms Shepherd.

With law firms recently discussing the importance of moving into resource-rich South Africa and Baker & McKenzie opening new offices in Seoul, it looks as if globalisation is here to stay in the legal profession.