Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More Cross-Border Lawyering But Thinning Capabilities?

Several data points have left me wondering whether corporate America is better or worse off given the growing number of lawyers who profess to offer some type of international legal services.

In the last 5 years or so, a broader number of law firms have felt compelled to market some type of international legal services for a number of reasons, including (1) a perception that China is hot and they had better jump on the bandwagon, (2) a concern that internationalizing clients will take their work elsewhere unless they are persuaded that their law firm can offer some international support, and (3) more lawyers have had some exposure to international matters, often dragged along by their expanding clients.

This may have led to a spreading of intenational work to large numbers of newcomers to the cross-border world who may not be able to offer a real depth of experience.

A few trends may support this theory. We all have noticed the continued proliferation of "world law networks" - a growing range of law firms may believe that joining a network may be a shorthand way of communicating that they are serious about international work. To the extent that membership in such a network really draws and retains clients, what is the actual depth of teaming experience among network members and is the client offered an "adult in the room" who has substantial experience in the key risk-limiting and revenue enhancing deal terms for cross-border matters?

We have also seen a tendency among some large corporate in-house law departments to shift in-house control over cross-border matters from more specialized international attorneys to generalist domestic corporate/commercial lawyers who have not focused as deeply over extended periods for multiple projects on the deal terms and issues that are key for cross-border matters. For example, two large Chicago companies have de-emphasized their parallel international teams in recent years. Will there be an experience lag as the corporate/commercial generalists catch-up to the skill levels of their former international colleagues?