In the last boom year in 2008 before the global financial crisis took its toll, the picture was rosy for UK-bred law firms. Riding high on an exchange rate that was more than two dollars to the pound, Clifford Chance (CC) topped the table with revenues of nearly $2.7bn, heading a list of seven $2bn+ firms, of which four were Magic Circle and another, DLA Piper, the result of a headline-grabbing UK/US tie-up.
Buoyed by their own success, the messages from the City elite were naturally upbeat. Not least because those firms felt that with the globalisation of legal services in full swing and the focus of clients shifting away from New York and towards markets like China and India, their attractiveness to US suitors had never been greater. ‘We want to be the number one global law firm and, without a strong US component, we won’t achieve that,’ said Linklaters’ then firm-wide managing partner Simon Davies. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s chief executive at the time, Ted Burke, echoed the point: ‘We’ve never seen so much interest in us from New York firms.’