Why law firms should go global - but not virtual

Why law firms should go global - but not virtual

The world is getting smaller. Lawyers today can work anywhere. But should they? Catherine Baksi investigates.

Law is undergoing the greatest geographic shift in perhaps the last 30 years. Business that used to be conducted in London or New York now takes place anywhere around the globe: across borders and across time zones. Anywhere, in fact, as long as clients feel they are getting a good service.

It makes sense. Global firms want to cut costs, operate more efficiently across international time zones and provide tip-top client service. Consequently, the focus has shifted to how, rather than where, the best work is done.

Elia Montorio, a corporate partner at DLA Piper, attributes that shift to the greater connectivity enabled by an increasingly online world. “While law firms have continued to grow both locally and globally, technology has made the business world a smaller place,” she says. And that smaller world, she points out, provides greater opportunities for lawyers to work as part of international teams, and enables firms to offer more flexibility in terms of resourcing and pricing to their clients.

According to Alexandrine Armstrong-Cerfontaine, head of the Luxembourg office at King & Wood Mallesons, working without borders and across international jurisdictions is possible not just because of technology but also because the “key principles of the mechanics” of deals and associated documents have become standardised. “There are local differences of course, but the main concepts are universally agreed, so it has become less important that you remain in a particular jurisdiction to practice,” she says. “As a result, it’s really not that unusual for clients in one jurisdiction to never actually meet their lawyers who are operating in another.”

But while jurisdictional boundaries may be of declining importance, the firm believes in exposing its lawyers to various worldwide locations through cultural and transfer programmes. “This gives our lawyers added value – understanding a market means you have to be in that market for a time,” says Armstrong-Cerfontaine. “It’s a real asset.”

Most of the lawyers in Armstrong-Cerfontaine’s office speak at least three languages, and it offers language lessons to all lawyers, including Mandarin for the boss at 7.30 in the morning. “Practising in a more virtual, cross-border world requires a change in mindset and greater flexibility on the part of lawyers,” she says. “But the effect on them is generally thought

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