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Opening up

Posted by: Laurence Simons 22/11/12

It's not just far-flung enclaves or emerging markets that are seeing new satellite offices opening up, despite the international mergers market: oh no.

In fact, as Above the Law columnist and chief counsel at Aon Mark Hermann notes, there is a gathering trend for Biglaw, Magic Circle and basically any decent-ish sized firm you can think of to open up local offices closer to home (i.e., in their own country) in an effort to chase new business.

But why? Is it profits? It is not profits. Well, it's sort of about profits, albeit in a roundabout way. Basically, as Hermann notes, the relative cost of opening a satellite office isn't just offset by the new business gained - it's also balanced out by the reduced need to refer work out to other boutique firms when complicated cases come up.

"When Bigg & Mediocre agrees to represent BigCo, Bigg & Mediocre implicitly agrees not to accept representations adverse to BigCo," explained Hermann, although by using a lot of made up company names. "At that point, Bigg & Mediocre might as well maximise the amount of work it does for BigCo. If you're doing BigCo's litigation, then build an employee benefits practice and start doing that work, too. And do the real estate work. And the M&A deals. And, if BigCo needs help in London, then open an office there, too." And there's no point setting up a complex relationship if opening another office is a viable option.
"Clients don't insist on one-stop shopping," he continued. "Rather, law firms expand to meet the needs of their clients, because the alternative is to give away a fortune in referrals."

But what this also means is successful firms that are opening up new offices to chase the referral dragon are going to be in need of new staff, so there's a real opportunity for those looking to take the next step in their legal career.