A recent study conducted by Stephen McGarry, President of the Association of International Law Firm Networks (AILFN), predicts that by 2020: “law firm networks will be recognized as the mainstream model for global legal services”.   Emma Ryan, writing in LawyersWeekly, details the conclusions in the McGarry report.

“In 1989 there were 5 law networks and 15 accounting networks. Today there are 200, whose members annually provide more than $250 billion of professional services. This was inevitable,” McGarry concludes.

In identifying international law firm network growth as an inevitability, McGarry also cited “a decrease in the importance of large law firm brands and an increase in those same firms’ willingness to promote their networks.”   

Dues for international legal networks are increasing

But importantly, as McGarry notes, international law firm network dues are going to be increasing as the networks adopt more sophisticated technologies.

McGarry predicts that:  “Networks will see that their members’ competition are not other legal networks but the 20 largest international firms with their networks and the Big 4 consulting ‘firms’ which are themselves networks of independent firms.”

Within his predictions is the presumption that law firm networks exist to provide member firms with “vetted lawyers in other countries.”  While this is one reason why law firms join networks, I’d suggest the prime reason firms join is to generate more revenue from referrals from other members.  

Assuming law firms are primarily interested in generating new business from increasingly expensive international network memberships  — I’d suggest firms may wish to consider asking the following 12 questions of any international law firm network before joining:

  1. How much work have member firms referred to one another – and how much does the network leadership expect would be referred to your firm should you join?
  2. Does the network have a proactive business development posture throughout the network and are staff properly trained within each member firm to be capable of effectively generating new business in international markets for network partners?
  3. Are there currently other firms in your jurisdiction in the network?  
  4. If not, are there plans to add additional firms in your jurisdiction?  
  5. If other firms in your jurisdiction are already members — or if other firms might become members — how are network referrals and business development opportunities prioritized within your jurisdiction?
  6. Within the alliance staff itself – what is the balance between those dedicated to generating new business for member firms – versus those dedicated to administrative functions? (this will reveal level of dedication to the core function of new business generation for member firms)
  7. Does the alliance maintain a network-wide online publishing effort aimed at increasing exposure for the alliance?
  8. For example, does the alliance maintain a unified, client-focused blog shared among member firms?
  9. If so, do all firms contribute to the network-wide blog regularly?
  10. Does the alliance have an active and robust social media presence which promotes each member firms’ individual social media channels, firm events, blog posts, practice groups and individual practitioners?
  11. Do the practice specialisms within alliance member firms line-up with your firm’s practice areas?
  12. How have network practice specialisms performed in generating referrals and joint business development opportunities?

International network — or Do-it-Yourself (DIY)?

While the use of international law firm networks is on the increase – so are the fees required to participate.  Important to keep in mind too is that the technologies which have made it easier for law firm networks to thrive – and hence disrupt traditional law firms – can also be utilized by well-prepared law firms to disrupt the networks.  

If individual law firms are sophisticated enough in their business development and marketing posture – they can replicate and seek to exceed the capabilities international law firm networks offer.  

Ultimately, membership in an international law firm network versus an attempt to replicate the capabilities internally or with other external assistance — can and should be judged on return on investment (ROI).  The 12 questions posed above are one way to help determine whether a network may be worth the investment or not.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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