Much of the narrative of Legal Business for the past 300 issues has involved the internationalisation – and the failed internationalisation – of the UK-based global firms. When I started out in legal journalism in the late ‘90s, the activity of the major Anglo-Saxon firms in mainland Europe was at its peak. Many, like White & Case and Weil, Gotshal & Manges and CMS, had cut a swathe through Central and Eastern Europe, positioning themselves to take advantage of the wave of privatisations in new independent nations such as the Czech Republic and Romania following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But the really bloody battles (in a law firm context) were taking place in some of the key markets of France, Germany, Benelux and Italy, where the Magic Circle firms were regularly putting noses out of joint at an alarming rate by either trying to take over leading firms or just hire as many of their key corporate partners as they could.
I witnessed first hand some shockingly arrogant behaviour from senior individuals towards what are now Euro Elite firms. Once, at the launch of a new initiative combining a number of key European firms, I saw one UK management figure sniggering as his German counterpart gave a speech in English. In an interview in Madrid with the fabulously charismatic founding partner of Uría & Menéndez, Rodrigo Uría González, he recalled having to get armed guards to eject from his office a particularly truculent London-based partner trying far too hard to get Uría on board in another hare-brained European alliance.