Legal services and English law are worth billions in hard currency and soft power. In many jurisdictions, the cliche ‘punching above our weight’ has long held true for England and Wales firms, whose approach to business and advice seemed to ensure greater success than US rivals.
But, as the Gazette’s feature on US firms in London shows (see related stories below), the share of the all-important M&A market has grown for US-origin firms. This gives them to power to set the market for salaries and partner rewards.
There is no doubt the presence of 100-plus US firms in London has changed the character of the legal market. That only one of ‘our’ firms – Freshfields – is in the top-10 list of global legal advisers should at least give pause for thought. In this elite field are ‘we’ punching at a lighter weight now?
But when most of their London lawyers are England and Wales solicitors, does it really matter? Yes, in small ways that add up. If US firms demand longer hours, more of them billed, and US HQ is less keen on, for example, flexible working arrangements, then the experience of solicitors here changes.
And then there is our famous ‘soft power’, which converts, indirectly, into financial rewards. English lawyers and businesses have a commercial advantage when the world plays by English rules. As our $45bn legal services sector prepares for life outside the EU, there are consequences to losing ground here.