Baker McKenzie’s brand is twice as strong as any other law firm’s, a new survey has found.
Legal market research company Acritas interviewed more than 1,000 in-house counsel at billion-dollar organizations across more than 50 countries and asked them to name the most well-known law firms, those that they perceived favorably, and those they would be most likely to use for cross-border deals and disputes.
Baker McKenzie has topped Acritas’ Global Elite Brand Index ever since the report’s inception in 2010, and this year widened the gap relative to the rest of the market. Its brand strength is now more than double that of second-placed DLA Piper and five times that of Sidley Austin and White & Case, which both ranked 15th.
Acritas CEO Lisa Hart Shepherd said that clients are increasingly looking for law firms to provide more than just traditional legal services. “The legal industry is fixated on distinguishing work delivered by lawyers and non-lawyers, but in reality, clients just want effective solutions to their broad portfolio of legal work,” she said.
Hart Shepherd added that a law firm’s brand is particularly influenced by four key factors: The strength of its U.S. presence; the strength of its international network—particularly in Asia; its ability to leverage international relationships to increase market share; and its use of innovation and technology to deliver more cost-effective and efficient legal services.
Jones Day has the most improved brand in this year’s survey. Having placed ninth last year, it is now the fourth-strongest legal brand globally—an impressive international showing for a firm that has almost two-thirds of its lawyers based within the U.S., according to The American Lawyer’s recently published Global 100 survey. Earlier this year, Jones Day overtook Skadden and landed the No. 1 spot in Acritas’ U.S. brand survey for the first time ever.
Others that rose in the ranks include Dentons, which broke into the global top 10 this year thanks to continued brand gains in the U.S. and Asia following its landmark 2015 combination with 4,200-lawyer Chinese giant Dacheng. Dentons also polled well among clients in the manufacturing sector.
The newly-created Eversheds Sutherland entered the top 20 following its transatlantic merger in January, with a brand strength score of 14. Its legacy U.K.-based business, Eversheds, ranked 16th in last year’s survey.
The U.K. magic circle firms, on the other hand, continue to lose ground in the survey. Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Allen & Overy all featured in the top five in Acritas’ 2010 and 2011 indexes, and while Clifford Chance remains in the top three this year, the rest have seen their positions falter slightly in recent years. A&O, Freshfields and Linklaters each lost another place this year, dropping to seventh and eighth.
Acritas’ Hart Shepherd said this is partly a reflection of their struggles to build scale in the U.S. and a perception that they are more expensive than rival law firms. “If you don’t have real strength in the U.S., you’re not going to have a leading position globally,” she said.
The magic circle received strong scores from European clients, however, while Freshfields and Linklaters both rank in the global top five for client awareness.
Freshfields was also among the firms named most often by clients as leaders in multi-jurisdictional litigation, as were Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, K&L Gates and White & Case. On the transactional side, A&O, Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters and Skadden were among the firms that clients said they would be most likely to hire for cross-border deals.
Outside the top 20, Acritas identified eight law firms as “the next contenders for global brand leadership.” They are: Ashurst; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Clyde & Co; Kirkland & Ellis; Mayer Brown; Ropes & Gray; Shearman & Sterling; and Japan’s Nishimura & Asahi. Shearman was the best performing firm among this group and moved into the top 30 this year.
The Big Four accounting firms continue to invest heavily in legal services, (The American Lawyer recently revealed that PricewaterhouseCoopers is launching a U.S. law firm), but the efforts of these non-traditional law firms have yet to translate into brand strength.
EY is the highest-placed of the accountants within Acritas’ legal brand survey, but it is nowhere near the leading law firms, languishing at No. 77.
But in another sign that suggests the Big Four will become increasingly serious competitors to Big Law firms, EY would rank among the top 20 elite law firm brands if the responses were limited to in-house lawyers under the age of 40.