If there is one big trend in the analysis of Legal Business in recent years it is the encroaching existential threat represented by US-bred law firms. That could be termed ludicrous simplification given the differences between individual law firms both US and homegrown but in many respects it remains a generalisation that speaks to profound transatlantic differences in approach covering the majority of the world’s largest law firms. There is a US model built on individualism, intense focus on profitability and higher pay for stars, and a resistance to bureaucracy. In contrast the UK’s brand of internationalism, backed by a far more institutionalised approach, had been startlingly successful until the banking crisis flipped the market.
Since then, pretty much everything has been flowing in the direction of US firms, which obviously have the huge advantage of feasting on the world’s largest legal market and biggest economy. The key issue – as highlighted in this month’s Global London debate – is that while US firms have shown some ability to appropriate elements of the UK approach to strengthen their global advance, London firms are doing their US rivals the huge service of not returning the favour.