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International round-up: Bakers launches fourth low-cost hub in Argentina as Cooley targets capital markets with Hong Kong office

Baker McKenzie is pushing on with its profitability drive having picked Buenos Aires for its fourth business service centre some five months after putting an estimated 350 London-based support staff under consultation.

On the other side of the Pacific in an unusually expansive move, Cooley has today (12 March) confirmed it will open in Hong Kong after hiring Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom’s corporate partner Will Cai.

Bakers’ new Buenos Aires global services centre will open in 2020 as an independent entity and employ 200 people led by director Gabriel Pardo. Next year the firm will also open its North American low-cost hub in Tampa, Florida, which will host 300 roles.

The firm announced the North American centre within weeks of putting all of its London professional and business services (PBS) staff under consultation as it kicked off a three-year global reorganisation of its services delivery.

‘The legal industry is facing increasing competition and challenges,’ said a spokesperson for the firm. ‘This demands faster, commercially sound responses, more competitive prices, better quality, continuous innovation and higher levels of business knowledge for clients.’

Increasing profitability is a long-stated aim of the firm, which has an unofficial goal to bring profit per equity partner (PEP) to $2m. It made significant headway in that direction last year, as partner profits rose 13% to $1.44m amid 8% revenue growth to $2.9bn.

The centres in Tampa and Buenos Aires follow the opening of a service hub in Manila in 2000 and in Belfast in 2015.

Meanwhile, Cooley’ Hong Kong office will be the firm’s third in Asia and 15th worldwide, with the launch announced a few weeks after it opened a second European base in Brussels.

‘We have been talking about expanding in Asia for a while,’ Cooley’s London managing partner Justin Stock told Legal Business, pointing to the firm’s launches in Beijing last year and Shanghai in 2011.

The office will initially be focused on capital markets work with a small team led by US and Hong Kong-qualified Cai, who had been a partner at Skadden since 2014. ‘Hong Kong’s capital markets, particularly around life sciences and tech companies, is becoming really important, and given the success we have in both those sectors we need to be in Hong Kong,’ added Stock. ‘It was a relatively easy decision.’

The firm will also be looking at venture funds and investment funds, and Stock said he expected it to add several partners and lawyers quite quickly, although it will remain below the 50-lawyer mark in the short term.

Starting the year with two international office launches in as many months is highly unusual for Cooley, whose partnership has traditionally been conservative when it comes to expanding out of the US.

But its recent financial performance confirms it is a good time to invest. The firm’s revenue rose 14% to $1.23bn in 2018, while PEP grew 14% to $2.4m.