According to Am Law Daily, mixed opinions were exchanged last week at the International Bar Association’s annual conference, regarding the risks and benefits of law firms’ global development. Lawyers traded their thoughts during a panel discussion on Wednesday. “We were forced by our clients,” to expand abroad, said Antonio Barba, a partner with the Spanish law firm Cuatrecasas, Goncalves Pereira.
Peter Pantaleo, general counsel at DLA Piper, said, “I can guarantee any law firm in this room can make a small fortune going abroad, if they’re prepared to lose a large one.” Pantaleo explained the risks, alluding to DLA Piper’s office in Singapore and the losses it faced in an effort to open its doors. DLA also recently closed their office in Venezuela because of the political risk at hand. Other firms, such as Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, are facing the same problems. The firm planned on expanding to Hong Kong and Shanghai last year but pulled out because of global setbacks they’re facing.
The most substantial risk for law firms that are expanding globally is the clash of cultures in different countries, according to the American Lawyer. “Clients are deeply turned off when they walk into a room in Bogota and see me sitting there,” said Elliott Portnoy, Denton’s CEO, who is based in Washington.
On the other hand, the American Lawyer points out, there are definite benefits to a firm’s global expansion. Pantaleo went on to explain that the Swiss verein model works well for DLA Piper and other firms. The structure allows offices to work more independently while protecting each country’s revenue. The partners don’t have to worry about foreign tax policies, and the model makes it easier to adjust compensation and staffing.
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