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US law firms must not lose sight of certain basic issues when considering expansion into London or Europe. At the outset, and on a continuing basis, they must be clear as to their strategic goals. But to what extent are some firms merely being driven by a ‘me too’ syndrome, because a competitor has just stolen a march on them?They must actively manage their expansion and not underestimate the extent of the management time and effort, in addition to financial exposure, that must be devoted to managing and developing the ‘remote’ London office. They must bear in mind the cultural differences that exist between US and UK law firms, particularly in areas such as the work ethic – US firms can be in for a big shock once they arrive here and begin recruiting UK staff.To implement their strategic goals, they also need to have the right person on board in London to build the practice. Without this, they will probably fail or, at best, meander and go nowhere. There are already a number of firms to whom this applies. So what are the basic options open to US firms thinking of opening here?1. Open an office on a greenfield siteFor some firms, this might be the preferred route to gain a presence in the London market, particularly if they are driven by the need to service certain clients in Europe. Manned by one or two ‘homegrown’ lawyers with appropriate legal and business development skills, and working on a ‘best friends’ basis with a few London firms, they can embark on growing the business at a managed pace and attract lawyers at both the associate and partner level. This was the way a number of US firms successfully established themselves in London in the 1980s and earlier. However, the position in the market is different to the one that existed in the 1980s. To succeed in the London market now, such firms must rapidly become competitive, with their fellow US firms and their London counterparts. Even if they have come here for the right reasons, whether their strategy is capable of being successfully implemented by this route is, as is evident in some cases, questionable. One US firm that established itself in London in this way has already closed. Others could follow if they are unable to show financial viability within a reasonable period of time. Deep pockets and a clear strategy, supported by all the partners in the firm, are the least that is required to be present if this route is to be followed.

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