Legal Business

Stronger together? Not really

When we first launched our Euro Elite report in 2016, much of the narrative was that the future of the elite European independent firms as a breed looked assured but individually they faced challenging headwinds and delicate balancing acts to modernise their businesses for a more globalised and networked world. But we were perhaps being charitable to the Anglo-Saxon firms that have striven so hard for decades to dominate Europe and have largely failed. Nobody is drinking that Kool-Aid anymore. The headwinds have come and gone, or at least remain with little of the effects that many anticipated. The 100 firms in 40 jurisdictions that make up this year’s report have taken Brexit, Covid and political turmoil in their stride and are largely going from strength to strength.

It was supposed to be so different; the mostly UK-based firms that threw their weight about in Amsterdam, Brussels, Madrid, Paris and Rome in the late 1990s and early 2000s, acting like bullies, predicted that legal services in those markets would be homogenised and those resisting would suffer. There were casualties – Loyens & Loeff was largely born of the ruins of Loeff Claeys Verbeke after Allen & Overy had picked it over. There were success stories too – Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber’s merger of equals with Freshfields was viewed as market defining, although there is an argument that it allowed Hengeler Mueller, Noerr and Gleiss Lutz to bolster their positions in Germany. There are many examples of Euro Elite firms rejecting formal advances from UK firms: Gleiss Lutz and Stibbe told Herbert Smith where to go, as did De Brauw (and others) to Linklaters. Few will have regretted that decision.