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08/30/06

Clifford Chance named world's first billion dollar commercial law firm


Clifford Chance, named Law Firm of the Year at The Lawyer Awards held in London on June 27, 2006, has become the world's first billion-dollar business firm, registering record profits from advising on deals across the world. It is also said to be the biggest billing law firm ever with revenues of $20.39 billion and 6557 partners sharing a profit of $6.6 billion. The law firm attributes its success to a special focus on national and international M&A deals. Last year, Clifford Chance topped three tables for worldwide M&A, advising on 444 deals globally which were valued at a total of $490bn.

Law firm billings have steadily risen over the past nine years, from $8.19 billion in 1997 to $ 20.39 billion in 2006. In a survey conducted by Legal Business, five firms dominate the legal market: Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters , Slaughter and May, and Allen & Overy. The same survey revealed that Linklaters enjoyed the reputation of recruiting more millionaire partners than any other firm, with 124 of the firm's partner earnings crossing the $1.8 million figure during the last financial year. Partners at Clifford Chance are earning an annual average of $ 1.5 million, which is 26 per cent higher than last year. Even newly qualified lawyers now earn $1,03,861, an increase of 7.8 percent over last year.

Small yet special
The global legal market over recent years has seen the emergence of 'boutique firms' competing with full service law firms in specialist areas. Why the shift?

Most attorneys at big firms find themselves working more than 80 hours a week. Boutique law firms give space to lawyers and help them in maintaining a work-life balance. Lawyers generally favor boutiques over big law firms owing to more autonomy and the chance to grow with an organization that they can call their own. With smaller, more specialized firms, attorneys can focus more on fewer clients and offer individualized attention. Numerous big companies prefer boutique law firms to handle their legal affairs, knowing that they get focused attorneys producing better work at less cost.

Carolyn Elefant, founder of leading energy boutique The Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant, said in a recent interview with LawCrossing, "If you're unhappy with what you're doing in the profession, if you're considering leaving the profession, that's fine; but you should really see if solo practice might give you some of the excitement or the freedom or even the financial opportunities that you might be looking for outside of the practice of law." Carolyn Elefant began her blog MyShingle.com to help solo practitioners network together and to offer advice to attorneys starting their own practices.

In 1993, Fred Bartlit left Kirkland & Ellis to start his own litigation boutique, Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott. In the last 13 years the firm has become one of the U.S.'s top litigation practices, with a client list that includes General Motors, Merck, Reebok, Hewlett Packard, Pfizer, and Morgan Stanley. The current trend is for boutiques with specialty in intellectual property, employment, or family law to be most successful. Major U.S.-based boutique firms include Jackson Lewis, Littler Mendelson, Allen Matkins, Kenyon & Kenyon, Beveridge & Diamond, and Kleinfeld Kaplan & Becker.

The movement is not restricted to law firms alone. Attorneys at the law departments of major corporate houses are beginning to leave for boutique firms. Morgan Stanley's former vice chairman Joseph R. Perella recently started his own boutique firm, Perella Weinberg Partners, which provides corporate advisory and investment management services. In fact, the concept of boutique firms has proven so attractive that even Wall Street firms such as Cravath Swaine & Moore have, on occasions, described themselves as boutique, reports practicallaw.com.

However, the big question remains: is there room for boutique firms in the current global market? Large firms do not agree, opining that clients prefer the advice of law firms specializing in different practices. The size of big firms enables them to provide resources smaller firms may not have. So can boutique practices survive in the long run? The answer remains in the hands of young lawyers and their clients.

White & Case may become first U.S.-based law firm tied with Romania
White & Case is exploring the possibility of joining forces with Romanian law firm Tuca, Zbarcea & Asociatii. This would make White & Case the first American law firm trying to set up shop in that country. Only two UK-based law firms Clifford Chance and Linklaters are presently operational in Romania, which is dominated by local firms. This will be a crucial step by White & Case to further its international presence. The newspaper Ziarul Financiar reports a strong growth these days in the number of deals in the country's law community.

After Romania's amalgamation into the European Union, the local legal market has witnessed mergers, acquisitions, further privatizations, EU compliance and the internationalization of litigation and arbitration. The fact that other parts of Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, were in a state of saturation with already developed law firms aided the process. In addition, the Romanian law market has also liberalized recently to allow easier access for foreign lawyers and companies to set up shop.

The prevailing trend is for most international law firms to collaborate with Romanian law firms on a case-by-case basis for specific transactions. The advantages of this strategy are that international firms have their cooperation, but not burdened by their problems; they are involved in project costs but not office maintenance costs. This may be changing, however, as international law firms develop working relationships with Romanian firms, and then gradually enter the mainstream market.

Greenberg Traurig continues expansion
After strengthening its base in intellectual property practice, Greenberg Traurig has undertaken the expansion of its real estate practice. The law firm has maintained its strategy of hiring attorneys from other law firms, and the latest entrant in the firm is former employee of Bryan Cave, Jonathan S. Margolis, who joins as a shareholder in the real estate practice at the firm's New York office. Earlier, the firm had appointed six new shareholders and seven new counsels in its New York office to strengthen its core practice areas. This was considered a crucial development in terms of the firm trying to make its mark in the local market. Previously, Greenberg Traurig raided White & Case and appointed a partner at the firm's IP practice, also in New York.

Multitalented attorneys and marketing
In an era of cutthroat competition, law firms are looking less for attorneys with specialized knowledge, and more for those with the talent and training to take the initiative in associated fields. The days are gone when attorneys could continue their jobs just because they were branded as good lawyers. Nowadays, with increased workload and client expectations, law firms are increasingly hiring people who, besides knowledge, possess multiple skills and a drive for sales and marketing to benefit the firm.

The majority of law firms dole out marketing training to attorneys in the hope of preparing them for client service and giving them problem solving strategies to further firm interests. The training is aimed at building up a sense of commitment, and it is taken a sign of strength as an employee when lawyers develop their personal skills by working on their sales and marketing skills. The same skills may also help in building better and long lasting relationships with clients.

Major corporations and law firms hire professional consulting and training firms, which are considered instrumental in improving sales productivity and increasing revenue. Experience in business strategy, operational management, organizational change, and strategic execution, allows them to be entrusted with the responsibility of diagnosing and clarifying sales issues, improving execution to drive immediate results, and building organizational competence to enable long-term success for law firms. Several firms including Arnstein & Lehr, Dorsey & Whitney, and Godfrey & Kahn have hired services of professional training firm Akina Corporation to provide classes to their attorneys. With the appropriate tools in place from marketing training, attorneys are in a better position to achieve success and increase revenue for their firms.

Winston & Strawn Receives Pro Bono Award from ABA
The American Bar Association has conferred the 2006 "Ann Liechty Pro Bono Award" to Winston & Strawn LLP for the firm's volunteer work. Winston & Strawn is the first law firm to be honored with this special award, given for outstanding pro bono legal services to children in custody cases. In the past, it has been awarded to individual attorneys for their pro bono work. Each year, the award recognizes a lawyer or law firm who has enhanced the lives of children by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to children involved in private child custody proceedings.

Winston & Strawn formed a partnership with the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Foundation, awarded the ABA child custody grant to help initiate the pro bono program. In the 1990s, CVLS was appointed as guardian ad litem in problematic guardianship cases, but by early 2002, the growing number of appointments exceeded the resources of CVLS. The partnership formed later that year with Winston & Strawn benefited both parties, providing the firm with a continuing pro bono opportunity.

Winston & Strawn was one of the first large law firms in the country to adopt a written pro bono policy in 1991, to become a signatory to the ABA Pro Bono Challenge and to establish a well-funded charitable foundation. Winston & Strawn LLP is an international law firm with 900 attorneys across nine offices in Chicago, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

Jackson Lewis Opens Office in Oregon
Jackson Lewis is flexing its muscles in Oregon, having recently opened a new office in Portland. The firm is eager to enter the highly competitive legal market of Oregon, dominated by law firm heavyweights Stoel Rives; Barran Liebman; Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf; and Ball Janik. The addition of Jackson Lewis in the list of law firms present in Portland will heat up the competition between national and local law firms eager to grab a major market share in the state.

Jackson Lewis believes that the region offers opportunities for growth with the presence of major financial institutions and corporate offices. The firm has already handled a number of jury trials and labor campaigns in Portland and services several major clients in the area out of its Seattle and San Francisco offices. The firm is anticipating a rise in union activities in the region, primarily due to the creation of unions affiliated with the Change to Win group. The group has allotted millions of dollars towards organizing campaigns throughout the Pacific Northwest. Jackson Lewis attorneys specialize in representing management exclusively in workplace law focusing on employment, labor, immigration, and benefits law and related litigation. In Portland, Jackson Lewis intends to focus on devising innovative and successful strategies to educate employees about the realities of a unionized workplace.

Law firms increase IT infrastructure services to focus on performance and efficiency
With the advent of new technologies over recent decades, law firms have experienced tremendous growth in information both created and received. A corresponding need has arisen for fast data access and retrieval throughout the law firm business. In the interests of maximum efficiency, therefore, firms are searching for a solution capable of growing and evolving with their needs.

The current IT solutions meet these expectations with centralized management control, data recovery solutions, and making data storage more robust and flexible. Law firms, with their increased demand for data management tasks due to compliance requirements, business growth, and expanding client bases, are increasingly adopting the technological developments.

This prevailing trend generates good business for IT service providers, who are cashing in on the opportunity to offer their services to law firms. Pillar Data Systems has devised a data storage infrastructure for law firm's in-house case management and document management databases, as well as its e-mail archival. Similarly, NaviSite provides IT hosting, outsourcing, and professional services for mid- to large-sized organizations.

Atlanta-based Morris, Schneider & Prior; Minneapolis-based Foley & Mansfield; Salt Lake City-based firm Kirton & McConkie; Washington, DC,-based Howrey LLP; and New Orleans based McGlinchey Stafford are amongst the law firms who have installed and successfully implemented advanced IT tools to enhance the production system without the need to engage technical support.

With the help of such advanced IT tools, law firms across the country have managed to scale up their efficiency standards to help in the smooth working and administration of the firm. The IT technology wave in the legal industry is poised to induce fresh competition between law firms as they vie for a larger market share in the country and across the globe.

Kenyon & Kenyon LLP.

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