Research on cross-border M&A commissioned by Baker & McKenzie concludes that worries about compliance issues in emerging economies lead the list of barriers to acquisition.

Such concerns stand between the inherent attraction of acquisitions, and the ability to convert that attraction into a deal.

Corporate counsel and their external advisers hold the key to realising commercial promise. They need to be involved at an earlier stage of pre-acquisition planning, and become better at judging the risks of a business or jurisdiction.

For UK businesses, there is some urgency. With growth sluggish in developed economies, senior executives are looking to capitalise in faster-growing emerging markets. Here they find themselves in serious competition with developing countries, whose businesses are themselves on a shopping spree.

Legal and compliance issues also head the list of concerns for companies from emerging markets who are looking at deals. Crucially, however, they seem more adept at reaching conclusions on risk.

It runs against received wisdom to say ‘send in the lawyers’ to achieve high returns. But that is a reasonable conclusion from these findings which are, after all, based on research among hard-nosed business leaders worldwide. Time, then, for corporate counsel everywhere to check their passports have not expired.