THE TOP 100 EUROPEAN INDEPENDENT FIRMS 2022: IBERIAN NETWORKS, AND THE FUTURE OF EUROPEAN NETWORKS

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For our final post on this topic of the top 100 European independent firms, our first stop is the Iberian peninsula.

As we’ve said before, the Spanish firms are the true European heavyweights. And they tend to have extensive international networks of offices to match. They continue the trend of tending to follow established historic national trade flows, with offices in Latin America (Garrigues, Cuatracasas and Uria Menendez). They also tend to have offices in Portugal (not so with Uria Menendez or Perez-Llorca), and in Cuatracasas’s case, a network of offices across former Portuguese colonies: this helps to explain why they have announced a recent integration with the law firm SLCM, to expand their Portuguese footprint.

Likewise, Portuguese firms have followed their country’s old international trading routes: all 4 firms in the list of top 100 independent European firms have networks of offices and associations across former and current Portuguese territories in the Atlantic, Africa and Asia, in preference to anywhere else in the world – including Spain, the UK and the rest of Europe. Understandable perhaps to prioritise a focus on the opportunities in Portugal’s own back yard.

We’ve focused on how European firms across its different regions have evolved their international strategies in different ways. What about pan- European networks with headquarters on the continent rather than London or New York?

We have seen in the past 2 years the arrival of both Advant and Unyer, both networks focused on 3 independent firms headquartered in France, Germany and Italy (respectively Advant comprises Beiten Burkhardt in Germany, Altana in France and NCTM in Italy; and Unyer’s members are Fidal in France, Luther in Germany and Pirola Pennuto in Italy). Five of these firms figure in the top 100 list. While early days, the creation of two networks without a UK or US ‘mothership’ suggests an acceleration in the development of purely European networks, one based more on a liaison of equals looking to serve the European market-place post-Brexit without a UK or US owner. It will be interesting to see if this develops more widely.

Of course, we have some other networks in existence already. There already exist two networks of best friends among the top 100 European firms: the first is the Slaughter & May ‘Best Friends’ network which includes BonelliErede (Italy), Bredin Prat (France), De Brauw (The Netherlands), Hengeler Mueller (Germany) and Uría Menéndez (Spain), and the other centred on Cuatracasas (Spain), Gide (France), Chiomenti (Italy) and Gleiss Lutz (Germany). Additionally there are a few firms which attempt to create a European-centred network of their own offices, providing something approaching good coverage in major Western European jurisdictions, including Schultze & Braun and Heussen as two German examples. And there are the international networks: Lex Mundi, for instance, counts among its members top 100 firms such as Gide (France), Noerr (Germany), Arthur Cox (Ireland), Houthoff (Netherlands), Vinge (Sweden) and Uria Menendez (Spain) and World Services Group includes Jeantet (France), Heuking Luhn (Germany), Garrigues (Spain), Gianni & Origoni (Italy) and Van Doorne (Netherlands).

There is in fact a profusion of potential models for any firm looking to bolster itself internationally. Critically, as our series of posts suggests, there is a huge amount of opportunity for firms to take the road less travelled in planning their international future. When considering their own international footprint, why follow the herd? What are the gaps left by the established players? How have things changed economically and in law firm markets since the first firms evolved their current solutions? What would be different today, and what would distinguish a firm today?

We plan to bring you more on international networks in due course. In the meantime, we send all our readers our very best wishes for the season, and for a happy and successful New Year.