We are living in an increasingly globalized society, one whose economy is no longer restricted by geographic barriers.
In order to transcend national boundaries and remain competitive, businesses have to be increasingly nimble. This applies also to the law firms that serve these businesses. More than ever, clients expect their law firms’ expertise to transcend national boundaries and reach into different countries and distant continents.
As companies explore opportunities beyond jurisdictional and national borders, effective legal guidance at the local level is essential. Up until recently, the first instinct of a business leader with far-flung interests might have been to engage a large, international law firm with attorneys and offices on several continents.
This is no longer the case. Now, small and medium sized law firms have found an effective way in which to serve clients with overseas interests. The solution for these firms – and one that is becoming increasingly effective – is the legal network.
Networks Aid Smaller Firms
Larger law firms have always had the wherewithal to respond to demand by opening offices in new cities. Now midsize firms have found that they can compete by opting to affiliate themselves with other law firms around the world by joining a network of law firms. An international law firm network (or association) is a membership organization consisting of independent law firms that are informally linked to one another with the main purpose of serving one another's clients in jurisdictions where the individual firms are not permitted to practice or do not have their own physical offices.
This has been a boon for small and medium sized firms in that they are able effectively to compete in the international market. It has also been advantageous for businesses that have long standing relationships with smaller law firms. These businesses may have been intimidated by the prospect of having to identify and select a multinational law firm to represent them in a foreign locale.
Midsize firms are increasingly relying – very successfully - on the reach of these networks to meet their clients’ needs further afield or internationally without opening overseas or out-of-state offices. For example, a lawyer in Denver may have clients who need an expert in Swiss banking laws, Latin American mineral rights, or intellectual property protection in Asia.
Members of a network have close personal and professional relationships with lawyers in each of the network’s firms. This gives the network instant access to experts on the laws, business practices and customs of countries on every continent.
Thus law firms that belong to a network are able to coordinate international transactions while dealing with the issues that often accompany such transactions, including cultural and language barriers and differences in legal systems and business practices.
Although they may vary in size, range or type of legal services and geographic coverage, most legal networks are typically associations of between 30 and 150 independent firms with local member practices in different states or countries. These firms have joined forces to provide coordinated, comprehensive services to clients across multiple jurisdictions.
Most networks charge annual fees that vary widely – but usually start at about $2,000. Some networks require members to attend annual, and sometimes regional, meetings. Networks typically screen prospective firms and follow up with clients to ensure the quality of service provided.
The best legal networks set high standards for membership. Candidates generally are well-established firms. They are required to undergo thorough reviews and interviews and to provide access to existing clients and to demonstrate extensive experience and capabilities in their areas of practice. And the highly selective membership requirements ensure integrity, expertise and commitment throughout the network, providing members and clients with a powerful - and global - competitive advantage.
And no member of any legal network can afford to provide less than impeccable legal service to a client referred by a fellow member. If that should occur, that firm will never have repeat business from that client, and the referring firm will also suffer. For networks, reputation is critical.
LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell lists about 120 legal networks, most international in scope. They include the Houston-based Lex Mundi, which has 160 member firms in 99 countries and TAGLaw with 150 firms in 100 countries. The International Alliance of Law Firms (IALF) has over 50 member firms in 40 international economic and geographical centers, while the World Law Group is a network of 47 law firms on six continents.
Advantages of Using Networks
Legal networks provide clear advantages for both member firms as well as clients of firms in the network. Networks give smaller firms a global reach, the ability to compete with large international firms and the wherewithal to provide clients with impeccable service in any corner of the world.
Clients know they will receive assistance with every facet of expansion into foreign markets. They know that the network will provide access to a wealth of local knowledge in a wide range of jurisdictions, real-time understanding of new legislation in different countries and a commitment to an integrated solution to the even the most complex of problems. In addition, clients are comfortable with the fact that all member firms can work in the English language.
Legal networks are growing each year, increasingly allowing members to help their clients wherever they go. The upshot of this is that member firms and their clients are continuing to thrive in the new world economy.
Edward D. “Ted” White III is Chair of the Transaction Section at the Denver law firm Moye White LLP, also is Vice President of the IALF. He provides in-depth legal advice regarding every aspect of business operations to companies of all sizes. Contact him at email@example.com.
Moye White is a member of The International Alliance of Law Firms. With 56 firms in 40 countries, the Alliance is an international network of select, mid-sized, law firms that refers legal services and counsel to other members of the Alliance and their clients.