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The rapid growth in recent years of international offices among the 250 largest law firms is no mystery. As businesses have expanded to sell to an increasingly global market, lawyers have followed their clients. Some of the numbers have been startling. In 2000, the number jumped by nearly a quarter. In 2001, it was above 20 percent and the following year it was still in double digits. More lawyers worked abroad the past two years, but the growth slowed dramatically. This year, it stands at 3.3 percent. Though comparatively small, it is still more than double the percentage growth of the list as a whole. IT’S THE ECONOMY Why the slowdown? The short answer is: It’s the economy, counselor. The recession has obviously had a broad impact on business, including the legal business. In addition, many firms already had made substantial incursions into international markets. For example, 75 firms — 30 percent of the NLJ 250 — report they now have offices in London. And, according to consultant Peter Zeughauser of The Zeughauser Group, business there has been slow. He anticipates continued lethargic growth, he said. On the other hand, a surprising number of firms — 36 — have ventured into China. Some have offices in multiple cities. “That’s the big new area in the international sector,” Zeughauser said. ESTABLISHING BEACHHEADS It’s still at the stage where firms are establishing a beachhead, observed Ward Bower, a principal at consultant Altman Weil. “You’re not going to see revenues right off the bat,” he noted. But the pressure is already on, he said, for firms to get a foot in the door. The larger trend is the growth through large swaths of Asia, Bower continued. Countries that had been protective and restrictive have recently loosened up. Bower cited Japan as a prime example. Japanese lawyers are now allowed to partner with their American counterparts. Though work may be slow in London, he hears lots of chatter about mergers, Bower said. The one that has drawn the most attention is the planned merger of the British firm DLA — a long-time client, Bower said — with the new firm that will be created by the recently announced merger of Piper Rudnick and Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich. “It’s not a slam dunk,” he said of the prospect that the deal will go through. “I’d say it’s at least 50-50.”

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