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Bakers agrees landmark deal to unite bulk of Euro business in one profit pool but Franco/German axis holds out

Baker McKenzie is to bring London and seven of its offices in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) into one profit pool as the firm moves towards full financial integration in the region.

Global antitrust chief Fiona Carlin has been elected to lead the integrated business, uniting 1,000 lawyers in the City, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Madrid, Johannesburg, Bahrain and Qatar.

The move will be viewed as a symbolic step for chair Paul Rawlinson in his goal of dramatically improving the institutional integrity of a sprawling giant with heritage as a globe-spanning franchise (which bequeathed the much-loathed ‘McFirm’ tag).

Rawlinson, who took over the leadership of Bakers in 2016, is aiming to unite its 77 offices worldwide into three profit centres in EMEA, America and Asia Pacific by 2020.

The new structure, which includes 250 partners, will go live on 1 July and see profits divided on a region-wide basis for the first time. Carlin was elected to the newly-established role earlier this month.

‘It’s a very exciting role,’ said Carlin, whose role will include overseeing partners’ remuneration. ‘The integration allows us to be more strategic in terms of the investment that we make into client relationships and align resources to make better decisions.’

The move means the firm now has four cross-jurisdictional profit pools in Europe, and Carlin will also be involved in negotiating further integration in the region. That will mean convincing the firm’s French and Germany practices to join up. The firm’s 200 lawyers in Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and Dusseldorf share profits with its 40-lawyer Austrian branch, while its 170 professionals in Paris form an integrated business with the 40-strong Luxemburg outpost. Meanwhile, 130 lawyers in Russia form part of the fourth cross-border profit centre in the region alongside Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

‘We have chosen the right person to take us on this part of the journey,’ said Samantha Mobley, London head of EU, competition and trade. ‘The reason why I thought Fiona would be an excellent leader is that she is good at coming up with innovative solutions and has a great drive towards getting things done.’

Carlin said she will keep her role at the helm of the firm’s antitrust practice for the time being, although new arrangements will be made after a transitional phase.

A long-time advocate of gender diversity and one of the founders of female professional networking platform Womanat, Carlin’s election will bring fresh air to a firm whose image has recently been dented by news that one of its male partners was allowed to take on senior roles after allegations that he sexually assaulted a junior lawyer several years ago.

While Bakers’ long march to integration stretches back to the pioneering leadership of Christine Lagarde in the late 1990s, Rawlinson’s vision of regional profit pools, a single global governance system and a unified remuneration model by 2020 still has some obstacles to clear.

Bakers moved to bring its North American outposts into a single profit pool five years ago, but had to draft special deals for its Dallas and Washington DC arms before these agreed to join the grouping. Meanwhile, Asia Pacific’s 17 offices are operating five different profit centres.

For more analysis on Baker McKenzie, see ‘Waking the giant’ (£)