21st-Century Dealmakers: International Legal Networks

As globalization continues, attorneys and firms from the United States and countries around the world can increasingly take advantage of an interesting opportunity to grow their businesses: international legal networks. Networks, like the longstanding leader Lex Mundi, as well as smaller competitors like Multilaw and Mackrell International, count a wide variety of quality American and foreign firms and attorneys among their members. These members include large, well-established law firms as well as rising boutique practices.

Aside from the obviously desirable increase in client and project referrals, there are many other benefits of joining a network that member attorneys find attractive. As cases come in, a member attorney will likely be introduced to new industries and client bases that have a growing need for local expertise, thus expanding the attorney’s knowledge. Member attorneys can learn about a variety of relevant cross-border legal issues. New foreign clients can also serve to raise the local attorney’s profile and create opportunities to expand practice into new geographical and industrial markets. Expansion can be tricky, however, as many networks divide global territories in order to grant various members exclusivity of practice in a given location. Regardless, opportunities exist for both U.S. attorneys and their foreign counterparts.

Perhaps the most interesting benefit of joining an international network is that, along with the increase in contact with firms around the world that need to associate with local practitioners, an attorney may find that relationships with foreign-based firms lead to talks regarding the possibility of opening satellite offices; that is, by cultivating relationships with firms and attorneys abroad through serving as their local counsel, an attorney can unlock unique opportunities for development. These co-branding opportunities with foreign firms (and even with the legal network itself) can be pursued to whatever degree is desirable, and permissible, in a given country. Many local practitioners and firms will prefer, of course, to maintain independence, but partnering remains worthy of thoughtful consideration.

For established high-quality networks, obtaining membership is challenging and selective. Membership criteria often relate to size and reputation in certain areas of practice. In addition, the network will likely seek to thoroughly review an applicant and will impose various controls and standards in order to maintain the integrity of the association and the consistency of client experience. There are a wide variety of networks that cater to a wide variety of members. Some relate only to certain niche practice areas, for example, while others focus on smaller practitioners or particular regions. Because international legal networks have selective membership, an LL.M. from a top-tier U.S law school, like Washington University School of Law, can assist attorneys in establishing their expertise, thereby improving their chances of acceptance into international legal networks.

If you are interested in joining an international legal network, you can view a list of the 30 largest networks, with footholds in the U.S. and abroad, but practitioners around the world are encouraged to research networks that best suit the characteristics of their practice and the membership benefits sought.