Transatlantic mega-mergers are challenging the existing international elite of law firm brands. The next decade will see a dramatic shakedown among the contenders to become the future global elite firms — many will succeed, more will fail.
Ever more global
The term global is of course a relative one when it comes to law firms. Although many have radically transformed themselves over the last decade or more from powerful national firms into substantial international brands, none can yet be said to be global in the way that say, PWC or Goldman Sachs are global.
The Big 4 accountancy firms and the Bulge Bracket banks are truly global entities with strong global brands — at or near the top in every key market around the world. Attracting the top clients and top talent simultaneously in a virtuous circle of market dominance.
In the legal sector by comparison the strongest international brands currently fall into two categories: the elite US or UK based firms with large but not quite global international operations (Linklaters, Sullivan & Cromwell, Skadden, etc) and the global but not quite elite more dispersed firms (Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, White & Case, etc).
Whilst these firms made all the running in terms of significant changes around the turn of the century, recently they have been relatively quiet on the transformation stage, leaving the spotlight to the series of global mega-mergers of silver circle firms — mostly but not exclusively reaching out across the Atlantic to find their partners (Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Herbert Smith Feehills, etc).
This sets the scene for a dramatic and potentially rapid and painful shakedown over the next decade of the brand landscape among the international firms as they fight for position in the race to get into the breakaway pack of genuinely global elite law firms.
The prize is huge — to gain an increasingly unassailable position as one of a select group of global elite law firms, handling the bulk of the largest deals, transactions and disputes for the Fortune 500 and largest financial institutions. The $64,000 dollar question is who will make the cut as all of the contenders face significant hurdles to develop this brand positioning.
Pdf version here.