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UK general counsel favour 'challenger' law firm brands

Fast-growing globally-focused firms commended for their client focus and commercial approach   

19 June 2013

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

The financial pressures on UK general counsel are causing them to increasingly favour ‘challenger’ or fast-growing law firms over top-tier firms.

That’s according to Acritas’ Sharplegal research, which has ranked law firms based on their brands in London and the UK.

It found that acquisitive, fast-growing and globally-focused firms such as Norton Rose Fulbright, DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie were often commended by general counsel for their client focus and commercial approach; each of them have consequently gained places in the UK and London brand indices.

The London and UK law firm brand indices were compiled from interviews with 353 UK-based general counsel and 119 overseas general counsel with UK needs. They were asked which law firms they had: top-of-mind awareness of; most favoured; considered for top-level M&A; considered for bet-the-company litigation; and used most for high-value work.

Brand recognition

The research found that 71 per cent of UK general counsel have international legal needs and spend significantly more on external counsel than those with a purely domestic focus.

By offering a combination of international reach, high-quality expertise and lower prices than their elite competitors, it found that ‘challenger’ firms continue to win work from large clients that are “forced to switch loyalties away from top-tier firms to reduce their external counsel spend”.

Eversheds ranked first in the UK law firm brand index, followed by Pinsent Masons. Both firms have strong regional office networks and are perceived to offer value for money, the research notes. However, neither firm ranked among the top ten law firms in London – a hub for international legal activity.

Linklaters, Freshfields and Clifford Chance took the last three top-tier places in the UK brand index. In the second tier, DLA Piper ranked first (sixth overall, up three places since 2012), followed by Slaughter and May, Herbert Smith Freehills and Allen & Overy.

Freshfields took first place in the London rankings, followed by Linklaters and Clifford Chance. The research notes that these firms “benefit from offering specialist expertise – the most important factor determining UK general counsel’s favourability towards, consideration and selection of law firms”.

Herbert Smith Freehills came fourth in London, followed by Allen & Overy, Slaughter and May and Norton Rose Fulbright. CMS, Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper rounded off the top ten.

“The results reveal a great divide in the UK’s legal landscape which demonstrates the need for law firms to be clear about their focus if they are to grow and succeed in a tough market,” said Acritas’ CEO, Lisa Hart Shepherd.

“For domestically-focused firms, we see clear evidence of the value that a strong national network brings. Ubiquity allows a firm to build detailed local knowledge, connections and expertise as well as to be on-hand whenever needed – factors valued by general counsel with higher workloads and lower budgets.”



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