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February 08, 2006

Yanks Abroad Gone Wild--Part 2

Lots of us are interested in geographic growth strategies--for our clients and for our firms. Particularly interesting to me (see recent post) are instincts like "growth for growth's sake" and "if it's there, we must conquer it". In that discussion, the WSJ Law Blog has also picked up on Bruce MacEwen's fine recent post in Adam Smith, Esq on the competency of U.S. law firm global expansion. David Maister noticed the post, too, and left a comment to Bruce's post referring to an article he wrote called Geographic Expansion Strategies which appeared a couple of years ago in some European and Australian papers. These are two fine articles. One notion common to both is the importance of deciding whether expansion even makes sense (at what price glory?) and--if so--devising a winning strategy you can really implement. Or, as David puts it, have you really "made yourself ready to win?"

Geographic expansion of a law firm is really an issue of geographic "coverage" of your clients' needs and activities. Whether your clients' activities are regional, national, global, or one square mile, can you get the work done? Expertly? Efficiently? It's not a matter of your firm's geographic "location", your brick and mortar offices. Location is less and less important. No, I don't think (yet) that that good business clients these days are ready for virtual law firms, or that so-called "flattening" dynamics offered by technology will allow a solo or boutique firm to be competitive with Jones Day or or Clifford Chance in any given niche practice area. Most clients still expect brick and mortar locations, and will use 1000+ lawyer law firms when that makes sense. But the dust has settled enough in the evolving global economy that we can all start asking questions about future geographic expansion in terms of "geographic coverage" and not "law offices locations" to service clients in whatever locations the clients are active. For starters, in a given law practice area for a discrete industry, (1) how big/small and (2) where (brick and mortar) do you have to be to service good business clients no matter where they are active? And (3) what level (if any) of outsourcing will be acceptable to the client?

Posted by JD Hull at February 8, 2006 08:12 AM

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