While many large U.S. law firms have been busy building out their offices in London, within the past 18 months, London-based Clyde & Co has been in an expansive mood in America.
The British firm opened offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., in 2017, a year that ended with it absorbing a large group of lawyers from now-defunct Sedgwick led by the latter’s insurance chair Ralph Guirgis and Los Angeles managing partner James Holmes.
“A huge proportion of global business is headquartered in the U.S., and roughly 50 percent of global legal spend is there,” said Clyde & Co senior partner Simon Konsta. “More often than not the global general counsel and heads of litigation are based there, whether that’s in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, so you need to be there.”
In January, Clyde & Co hired an eight-lawyer team in Miami from Hinshaw & Culbertson and brought aboard another nine-lawyer insurance team from Shipman & Goodwin in Washington, D.C. Clyde & Co, which now has about 70 partners and more than 250 lawyers in the United States, is showing no signs of slowing in expanding its trans-Atlantic reach.
“What you have seen in recent months is the culmination of many months and years of planning,” Konsta said. “This goes to the focus for us in the U.S. and North America as a whole. We are of course committed to being an emerging markets firm, and we will continue to focus on Asia, Africa and the Middle East so that we can provide solutions in those regions, but whichever way you look at it, you also need to be in the U.S.”
Talks to set in motion the headline-grabbing hire of 45 lawyers from Sedgwick, which dissolved in January, began late last year. Konsta said he suspects that Clyde & Co was not the only firm to have spoken with Sedgwick.
“We were lucky in the sense that we had existing partners in the U.S. who knew and had worked with Sedgwick for many years, so it is not as if we were looking at a substantial undertaking from a standing start,” he explained. “It was a large number of partners, and when you are clearing conflicts, transferring substantial amounts of data and getting teams up and running there is obviously a logistical challenge, but I think that we have negotiated that well. It is early days in terms of the business, but the initial view is that they have settled in well and revenues are in line with expectations. Most importantly, the clients are happy.”
Konsta said that U.S. expansion has been carried out with a “laser-like focus” on sectors and practitioners, without which, he claimed, the firm risked ending up with “midtable mediocrity and no meaningful brand presence.”
“Unless you decide to embark upon a substantial trans-Atlantic merger—which we haven’t done, are unlikely to do, and which is effectively piggybacking on the status of the U.S. firm—you need a very clear sectoral strategy and you need to be recruiting the very best market leaders from the best firms in those areas,” Konsta said.
Discussing his firm’s current position, Konsta noted that Clyde & Co has “good penetration with some clients,” but acknowledged that there is more work to be done. He said the firm’s key areas of focus are the “core pillars” of its global businesses, such as infrastructure, commodities and energy, as well as building out its corporate and commercial capability.
Aside from expanding existing practice areas, Konsta said Clyde & Co is looking at how to best exploit the value of its existing offices, putting in place “integration programs” to ensure that happens.
“Since November we have had a North America board chaired by San Francisco managing partner Bill Casey,” Konsta said. “It has U.S. and Canadian representatives at a senior level and the primary function is to take a North American view of what we are doing and to ensure proper integration across borders—and within borders—and also to look at growth opportunities. We have also created some client-focused groups within the U.S., with representatives of each office and practice areas, to talk about shared opportunities and client challenges.”
As well as Casey’s chair role, former senior partner James Burns has since late 2016 served as head of Americas at Clyde & Co. The position makes Burns, who works in tandem with chief strategy officer William Isaac, responsible for overseeing growth in the Americas and also for the integration of offices in the United States, Canada and Latin America.
Konsta added that following Clyde & Co’s expansion in California, building out the firm’s capability on Canada’s West Coast is also on his radar.
“I am mindful of U.S.-headquartered companies that have major businesses in Canada and vice versa,” Konsta said. “I am sure there is more that we can do, and having just expanded in California, at some point we would like to build a West Coast capability in Canada too, most likely in Vancouver.”
The American Lawyer has recently reported on a number of law firm combinations in the Vancouver market. As for Clyde & Co’s foreseeable future, Konsta declined to discuss whether or not the firm has any existing expansion plans, noting only that it regularly gets offered new opportunities and that they are becoming more frequent and exciting.
“We have no set plans right now to grow out in specific locations, but we are looking at options and we look at them with real diligence—so in terms of more expansion, we never say never,” Konsta said. “We are very excited about the U.S. and North America and there is a lot more to do out there.”
Clyde & Co expansion in the Americas since January 2017
- February 2017: Ten-partner insurance and disputes practice joins from Troutman Sanders to launch two new offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
- May 2017: Acquisition of 30-strong Mexico energy, marine and trade firm Garza Tello & Asociados.
- July 2017: Launch of ninth U.S. office in Los Angeles.
- December 2017: Acquisition of 93 lawyers and staff from Sedgwick, including a new Orange County, California, office and a Kansas City shared services team.
- January 2018: Acquisition of 10-lawyer Miami insurance team from Hinshaw & Culbertson and five-partner Washington, D.C. disputes team from Shipman & Goodwin.