In 2015, Dentons inked a deal with Dacheng, China’s largest firm, creating the world’s largest law firm by head count and changing the idea of what a global law firm was supposed to look like.
But earlier this spring, at a meeting with its U.S. partners, its leaders laid out with specificity a new plan.
“While we have grown dramatically in Europe, in Australia, in Singapore, in Latin America, in Africa and multiple other geographies over the last year, our top global growth priority is the U.S.,” Dentons global chief executive officer Elliott Portnoy said.
Over the last year-and-a-half, Portnoy said, the global legal giant met with clients and it became strikingly clear that they wanted broader and deeper bench strength in the U.S.
As a result, “Dentons, as a global priority, is doubling down on strategic growth in the U.S.,” he added.
All things considered, the U.S. remains the world’s largest, strongest and most lucrative legal market. A 2017 study by U.K.-based market research company Acritas found that U.S. companies spend 166 percent more on legal services per dollar of revenue than companies around the globe.
“I don’t see another market that’s going to match the U.S.,” Hogan Lovells CEO Stephen Immelt says.
London- and Washington, D.C.-based Hogan Lovells’ strategy has been to create an international firm with a strong U.S. presence, Immelt says. About half the firm’s revenue is generated in the U.S. each year, which has contributed to the overall growth of the firm stateside and led to expansions in California, Houston and Colorado, he says.
But Immelt says this is different from the past, when firms with a strong U.S. presence started to build international platforms. For years, globalization has been key for a large group of U.S. law firms, but many have since halted their expansion efforts.
“I have seen firms [pull] back from the platform building that you saw 10 to 15 years ago and really focus much more on the U.S. market,” Immelt says. These U.S.-based firms see their main market as being in the U.S., so it’s no longer the goal to build a 50-office network, he notes.
The United States’ strength in the global legal market has also drawn attention from across the pond, particularly from London’s top firms.
“Magic Circle firms have been growing internationally for decades but are struggling to gain market share in the U.S.,” says Dave Koschik, a member of White & Case’s executive committee and head of its U.S. growth team.
Allen & Overy is reportedly in merger talks with O’Melveny & Myers, a potential move that has sent ripples throughout London and signals an increased desire and interest to finally break through in the U.S. legal market.
“The U.S. is the largest and most lucrative legal market in the world, so it makes sense that firms with global ambitions would want to be here,” Koschik says.