CMS is aiming to leverage off its UK expansion and scale up in Asia once it has bedded down its mergers with Nabarro and Olswang, according to management.
Speaking to Legal Week, senior partner and chair of the UK board Penelope Warne said the current political instability in the US meant Asia would likely be the immediate focus for investment, despite the firm’s long-held ambitions for US expansion.
Her comments come as she draws up a new strategy for the combined firm with CMS managing partner Stephen Miller and the leaders of its two merger partners that puts weight on creating something different to the stereotypical City law firm.
While the immediate focus is on integrating the UK business and the shared continental European offices, Asia is a priority for further expansion.
Warne said: “We have a lot of ambitions around translating what Olswang and Nabarro have done domestically to the international market. China and Asia are very important. Not only China, but southeastern Asia as well.”
The firm intends to hire more partners in Asia as well as continental Europe, in response to demand from technology clients.
Managing partner Miller added: “Nabarro has been successful in capturing inward investment from China in real estate, but has not previously had a presence in China, so we will really ramp up that effort.”
For CMS, the tie-up with Nabarro and Olswang gives them a presence in Singapore. Miller commented: “Singapore was missing. Having two offices now is a big gap we have filled.”
In relation to the US, where CMS has long-sought a merger partner and was linked with plans for a US tie-up late last year, Warne suggested that Trump’s election as President may impact on plans.
She added: “In the US, we are waiting to assess what the global macro situation is. Obviously it’s an important market, but it is slightly challenging at the moment.”
While partners were given some details of the plans for the combined firm ahead of voting on the union, it is only now that management are drawing up a concise strategy ahead of the tie-up’s go-live date on 1 May.
Miller said: ”We’re distilling what our strategy is. In our three-page memorandum, which partners already have, there is a lot of it in that, but we are distilling it down as we move towards merger date. We want something easy to get everyone’s heads around and understand.”
While details are not yet clear, the general direction is apparent – making the most of the sector focus and focusing on culture to create a firm that stands apart from its City peers.
Says Millar: “We don’t want clients to have to make a choice anymore between a sector firm, which understands their business, and scale.
“We are not just trying to be a big law firm in London – this is about being something different. When we say we’re a sector law firm, we mean clients don’t have to educate us when we get their work. In future they’ll see that we know the industry and sector side and we have got the scale.”
Warne added: “In some areas that will really make a difference. In life sciences, a lot of those areas clients are moving into an unknown, unregulated space – such as gene therapy. There’s a vacuum of regulation. We’re in an ideal place to work with clients to build the regulation around this. Olswang are experts in technology – we are absolutely committed to doing things in a better, faster, cost-efficient way for clients using technology. This is part of what we’re looking ahead to.”
Culture will play a large role in this, according to Warne. “We don’t want to be a City straitjacket firm. The City is still a very conservative place and law is probably the most conservative. We don’t want to completely change that culture, but we do want to have a more entrepreneurial approach – a female-friendly and a more people-friendly culture than perhaps the City has been known for.”