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What’s the basic lesson of the last ten years? The deal economy comes and goes, but litigation lasts forever. It’s not as lucrative as below-the-line premium-deal billing, but it’s steady work and important to clients. As our Focus Europesupplement makes clear this month, litigation is taking on aspects of the divine: not only is it ever-lasting, but thanks to a spurt of international arbitration, it’s also ubiquitous. Given that, I am led to ponder again what you might do with those two phenomena if you happened to be the captain of a mighty U.K. law firm that was still bent on making it in the United States. This question arises because this month we look at the cavalcade of firms that continue to open in New York. The British firms are among them, and they are notable for their struggles. (For these purposes, I put aside Clifford Chance, which has been well and continually covered in these pages. I see its future as healthier than the conventional wisdom would have us believe.) So, what would you do to take advantage of American litigation if you were steering your British battleship into U.S. waters? Option one. You could simply ignore it. Instead you could spend your days trying to invent a new financial instrument or stratagem that will have clients-but hopefully not Eliot Spitzer-beating down your door. Or, you could attempt to revive all those cherished connections with U.S. bankers who adore you while they’re bunking in London but drop you once they return to New York. Or, you could attempt to build a local practice through small acquisitions of corporate lawyers who over time will prove formidable. Or not. Option two. You could welcome a few American litigators into your midst and hope they don’t prove too rambunctious at the annual retreat. This isn’t a radical concept: You have some litigators back home, many of whom, as our arbitration charts disclose, represent real clients in real disputes. But a few won’t take you very far toward building a credible presence in the States. They won’t provide much countercyclical balance. And, perhaps worst of all, they won’t gain you many paths into the chambers of anxious general counsel who you hope just might remember you when the time comes to seek counsel on a deal. Which, if I understand your strategy, is the point of the whole exercise anyway. Option three. You could seek a merger with an American litigation powerhouse, that is to say, not a New York-centric firm. Whom do I have in mind? I wouldn’t presume to name names, but I would suggest that you look in Texas. Why Texas? It’s home to major litigation practices. It’s home to 48 Fortune 500 companies, at least a dozen of whom are in the energy business. No business is more global in nature than energy-or more susceptible to the appeal of the seamless global service provider. And, as a plus for your recruiters, the economics of the Texas firms are such that they would not necessarily lead to the messy self-immolation that accompanies a lockstep-busting compensation battle. The last option, which is the one that warms my heart as a journalist, is the most daring. Were it to work, it would pay off with serious clients and partners who would allow you the comfortable cushion possessed by your principal U.S. competitors. It would, of course, require a firm willing to be wooed. But for the final unassailable point, I expect the response to be: Sir, you speak drivel. Your idea dismisses our strategic goals, our cultural norms, and our rightful place in the firmament. All true. I just thought you might be interested in being important here.

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