Legal Business

Royaume-Uni, nil points: why the true Eurovision is independence

Compiling our second annual Euro Elite report this month reminded me of when the late Rodrigo Uría, then managing partner of Spanish leader Uría Menéndez, recounted how he ended a heated meeting with Linklaters’ irascible former managing partner Terence Kyle by pointing out the armed guards at the entrance to his firm’s Madrid office. Back in the late 1990s, the UK elite was desperate to get into Europe. Emotions ran high.

With Brexit, the UK now wants out (the legal profession less so). But in the Continental market you could argue the English firms have been in withdrawal mode for years. Although the buccaneering expansion across the region in the 1990s and early 2000s means firms with Anglo-Saxon origin are ubiquitous, few dominate. With the exception of France, where the locals have potent competition, and the Netherlands, where Allen & Overy became a major force (by force), Global 100 firms rarely compete at the top level. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is a leader in Germany, but by virtue of the only merger of equals between a European and an English firm, and even it is currently looking to strip down its local practice to bolster profitability. The Magic Circle has been on some level of modest reversal in Germany for a decade now.