Opinion | 14-10-13

Boies Schiller launches in London

Nick Shilton discusses the approach towards the UK market of some of the elite US disputes law firms and the forthcoming arrival in London of Boies Schiller & Flexner

Over the last two years another wave of American Lawyer 100 US law firms have launched (or re-launched) offices in London, amongst them Goodwin Procter, Bracewell & Giuliani and Locke Lord – all transacted by SSQ – as well as smaller firms such as Vedder Price and Sullivan & Worcester. This month has seen the news that there’s another AmLaw 100 firm about to land in the City, namely Boies Schiller & Flexner (click here to read the full article on thelawyer.com). But Boies has a markedly different strategy to the other recent entrants. 

Since opening their London office in early 2008 Quinn Emanuel have made an undeniable impact in the UK disputes market. The firm has lured a number of high profile contentious partners to their London operation and been involved in some of the most significant disputes of the last few years as well as launching offices in both France and Germany.

Intriguingly the firm has also enthusiastically embraced the use of temp/short-term contract lawyers in London. This is a trend which we foresee becoming increasingly prevalent as clients resist the high fixed costs and consequential charge out rates of junior and middle level permanent fee-earners used for certain tasks. There's also of course the financial imperative on law firm managing partners and finance directors to maintain or indeed enhance bottom line profitability. 

Quinn now find themselves about to be joined in London by Boies, another of the US elite litigation firms, whose hire of Bingham partner Natasha Harrison has made waves in the market last week. Of course various disputes competitors to Quinn and Boies have long been in London – Cleary, Debevoise, Gibson, Kirkland and Skadden amongst them. However some powerful US disputes practices do not yet offer contentious capability on both sides of the pond. Some may choose not to expand their London offices into disputes work. Other firms yet to cross the Atlantic may resolve to continue not to open a London office. 

But from our intelligence and discussions at the IBA in Boston last week and in New York, Boies’s move is already prompting one or two other ‘hold outs’ to consider carefully whether the time has come to launch in the UK