Recent news that BigLaw law firm Morgan Lewis had hired hundreds of partners and staff members from BigLaw law firm Bingham McCutchen – is yet another reminder of how fragile the careers of BigLaw lawyers may be.
A component of the career decision-making process for BigLaw lawyers is whether they should leave BigLaw and establish a boutique practice. This post is the 6th in a series devoted to analyzing what BigLaw lawyers may wish to consider when deciding whether to make the move to a boutique.
One of the allures of BigLaw practice for many is the opportunity to work with clients from around the world. From international arbitration to cross-border mergers and acquisitions to the rarefied air of sovereign representation — international work is a particularly attractive benefit to the hard work of a BigLaw practice.
But does leaving BigLaw mean one can’t continue to work with international clients? The simple answer is – no. One can not only continue to represent international clients – one can position a boutique to cater exclusively to international clients – with good planning well executed.
What are the key components of a boutique practice positioning itself to serve an international client base? In my experience of working closely with the Managing Partners of boutiques from around the world – the following are key components required for a boutique to thrive in international markets:
The Managing Partner must be both a superb practitioner and a consummate business developer – devoted to building the practice for the long haul. This is the key ingredient required for any boutique law firm to succeed in international markets. But what can boutiques do in addition to having a devoted, hard-working Managing Partner? Here are some additional ingredients that will maximize a boutique’s ability to not just survive but thrive:
Hire and cultivate lawyers who are both superb in their capabilities to provide legal services – as well as in their business acumen. Train new lawyers to develop business in order to permit the Managing Partner to not become overwhelmed by his or her business development efforts. These efforts also help create an opportunity for the Managing Partner to put a succession plan in place and one day entrust the firm to the new hires.
Pay very close attention to the changing and increasingly perilous competitive landscape that law firms now inhabit. Are you familiar with NewLaw and its threat to the traditional law firm business model? Are you aware of what new technologies are most important to adopt to maximize your practice efficiency? Are you familiar with all alternative fee arrangement options clients are now expecting to be presented with before retaining a law firm? All of these and more developments in the global legal services sector must be of prime concern to you as not only a practitioner but as a business owner as well.
Position your firm to identify and seek to meet the needs of clients in a global context. In order to effectively build an international client base for a boutique law firm – firm leaders must be aware of how to position the firm to meet the key business objectives of clients. This requires research and analysis sufficient to achieve this capability. Among important initiatives boutique should undertake is hyper-specialization, localization and even services diversification. These can uniquely position your firm among a sea of competitors.
Be aware of and plan to adapt to profound changes in the new means of global communications – The digital economy provides boutique law firms with an unprecedented opportunity to reach and attract clients from around the world. But any effort to reach those clients must be carefully planned and implemented. The utilization of sophisticated communication technology and practices must be integrated into any boutique law firm plan to help gain advantage in today’s global digital economy.
The above list enumerates just some of the initiatives and issues boutique law firms should be aware of to be best positioned in 2014 to attract a global client-base. Boutiques can be a vehicle for tremendous opportunity for those leaving BigLaw – but informed planning is an absolute necessity before launching this ambitious business model.