'The global solution isn't working' - new four-way alliance aims to challenge international giants

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“Global firms are exceptional in some regions, but in other regions the quality is patchy. The difference here is you have four best-in-region law firms coming together,” says David Kearney, chief executive partner of Australia’s Wotton + Kearney, one of a quartet of firms that have joined forces for a new insurance law alliance covering four key markets around the world.

Kearney continues: “Clients are saying to us – ‘The global solution we are getting from global law firms isn’t working’”. In response, the firms have formed Legalign Global, a four-way alliance covering the UK, US, Germany and Australia, which the member firms claim will be able to provide clients with global coverage without sacrificing quality.

The four firms are UK top 50 firm DAC Beachcroft, Am Law 100 firm Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, German insurance leader Bach Langheid Dallmayr (BLD) and Australian insurance specialist Wotton + Kearney. Legal Week met the leaders of the four firms at DAC Beachcroft’s offices in EC3, London’s insurance district.

The four-way alliance operates as a UK private company limited by guarantee – the same structure used in both the recent merger of Eversheds and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and last year’s tie-up between Gowlings and Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co. However, unlike those combinations, which saw the merger partners come together under one brand, the Legalign firms have opted to retain their individual names and identities.

Daniel McMahon, chair of 770-lawyer US firm Wilson Elser, says: “We are very committed to being four independent law firms, which, as a central part of their business strategy, intend to be best in class in the particular jurisdictions they practice in.”

Kearney agrees, saying: “We have worked very hard in building goodwill in our four respective brands, so to lose that by adopting any one name did not make good business sense.”

The four ‘founder firms’ remain open to adding further member firms to the alliance. DAC Beachcroft managing partner David Pollitt says: “If clients think we should try to help them further by having a member in another jurisdiction, then we will look at that.”

The alliance will not stop the four firms pursuing their individual expansion strategies, although they will largely stick to their key geographical areas. BLD managing partner Theo Langheid says his 163-lawyer firm has best friends in places such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Poland, and does not rule out one day opening BLD-branded offices in those territories, but the idea of opening in Madrid, for example, to compete with DAC Beachcroft’s Spanish office, “would be ridiculous”.

Outside of Europe, DAC Beachcroft also has a number of offices across Latin America, as well as Asia-Pacific bases in Singapore and New Zealand.

McMahon adds that the four firms have “no aspirations of moving into the backyards of the other firms”.

Other key benefits of the alliance include the potential to share information and knowhow on trends in their respective marketplaces, allowing junior lawyers to spend time overseas on secondment and to jointly invest in specific projects such as IT.

Pollitt cites the challenges law firms face in attracting and retaining talent, saying: “One of our responses to that is to start striking up secondment opportunities within law firms, to try to develop our talent and give them the opportunity to work and experience other jurisdictions.”

The firms have not yet set up a formal secondment programme, but it is currently being looked at. Langheid adds: “Finding a new recruiting tool that offers young people the chance to go abroad should be very attractive – hopefully they won’t prefer Bondi Beach to Cologne.”

Looking ahead, joint investment in areas such as technology could be on the horizon. McMahon says: “There are bound to be opportunities where we can pool our resources, and not just on the hard costs of doing business, but sharing ideas – we can certainly learn from each other.”

The leaders of the four firms plan to meet regularly to discuss the alliance and also to meet clients in each of their jurisdictions, with Germany next on the agenda. In September, the group will go to the US, with a trip to Australia scheduled for March next year, as the firms set out to spread the gospel about what their alliance can offer.

Pollitt says: “This is not your standard network of law firms – it is a group of people who are committed to the insurance market doing something for the benefit of insurance clients globally, and we are very excited about it.”

Legalign global management committee

DAC Beachcroft David Pollitt, managing partner Helen Faulkner, head of insurance

Wison Elser (US) Dan McMahon, chairman Bob Roarke, managing partner

Wotton + Kearney (Australia) David Kearney, chief executive partner Cain Jackson, partner

BLD (Germany) Theo Langheid, managing partner Bastian Finkel, partner