By Jay Rains. He is co-chairman (Americas) for DLA Piper in San Diego.
In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller with each passing day, the concept of globalization may seem almost passé. But in the legal sector, where innovation and change sometimes move a bit more slowly than they do in the rest of the business community, it continues to be a work in progress.
Of course, global expansion is not for every law firm. Client needs are as unique as snowflakes, and for many, regional or boutique representation is the ideal course. However, that isn’t the path we chose at DLA Piper. In 2005, we announced a merger of unprecedented scope, bringing together the U.S. firms of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich and Piper Rudnick, and the UK firm DLA (themselves the product of the combination of a number of legacy-firm mergers, which put them on the front lines of another trend that goes hand in hand with globalization: consolidation).
Our merger was a paradigm shift for the industry, ushering in a new era of globalization. But going global for the sake of being global is obviously not a business model. At its core, this kind of growth has to be driven by client needs. And client needs are generally driven by the shifting waves of the global economy and the resulting flow of capital in and out of the business and financial centers of the world. How can an expanding firm accommodate these needs and still successfully manage its business in a market where the demand for legal services remains essentially flat?.
First and foremost, accommodating client demands requires collaboration and communication. No firm, big or small, is worth its salt if its lawyers and practices are not operating in lockstep with one another. And being in sync requires communication, which comes in a variety of forms: top-down communication from leadership about the firm’s strategy, goals, and responsibilities; communication among practices and offices to ensure that all stakeholders are fully aware of the firm’s capabilities; and communication across administrative departments to share best practices and operate in concert to support business and client goals.
Much of the responsibility for all this lies with us as law firm leaders. It means a lot of travel, a lot of speaking, and a lot of writing. In this way, we serve not just as the lead ambassadors of the brand, but the glue that holds the firm together as it continues to grow and evolve. This sets an example for the rest of the members of the firm to become brand ambassadors, both internally and externally, and helps contribute to the growth and cohesion of the firm.
All of this leads to a single, unified platform with multiple entry points, allowing a firm to better understand the business needs of its clients. It also helps to keep costs down by taking advantage of economies of scale.
Of course, in the end, the goal is to serve clients. But the only way a firm can do that well is by thinking of itself seriously as a business, with the requisite efficiencies and attention to the bottom line.