International v. Domestic – The UK Legal Market’s Great Divide

Against a backdrop of negative UK growth, international demand is driving workflows in London favouring the traditional legal powerhouses with serious international strategies in place.

According to Acritas’ Sharplegal research, 71% of UK general counsel have international legal needs and spend significantly more on external counsel than those with a purely domestic focus.

This trend is evident in the results of Acritas’ new London Law Firm Brand Index, which reveals that Freshfields, Linklaters and Clifford Chance dominate this critical hub for international legal activity. These firms benefit from offering specialist expertise – the most important factor determining UK general counsel’s favourability towards, consideration and selection of law firms.

Outside London, however, a different picture emerges.  Here, Eversheds and Pinsent Masons have gained considerable ground and lead Acritas’ 2013 UK Law Firm Brand Index. Both firms have strong regional office networks and are perceived to offer value-for-money.  This model is working well in the current domestic climate where corporate buyers of legal services face ever-greater cost constraints.

The financial pressures on UK general counsel are also favouring the ‘challenger brands’. These acquisitive, fast-growing, globally-focused firms include Norton Rose Fulbright, DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie which have all gained places in this year’s UK Index. General counsel often refer to the client focus and commercial approach that these firms have.

Offering a combination of international reach, high quality expertise and lower prices than their elite competitors, these firms continue to win work from large corporate clients forced to switch loyalties away from top tier firms to reduce their external counsel spend.

Big winners in this year’s Top 25 are Pinsent Masons – up six places, as well as Clyde & Co and Simmons and Simmons – rising eight places each. Pinsent Masons and Clyde & Co have both benefited from their mergers, the latter being with Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, giving Clyde & Co deep sector specialism.

Commenting on the results, Acritas’ CEO, Lisa Hart Shepherd, said: “The results reveal a great divide in the UK’s legal landscape which demonstrates the need for law firms to be clear about their focus if they are to grow and succeed in a tough market.

“London remains an important gateway for firms with international ambitions, where demand is boosted by the continued worldwide preference for UK Law.

“For domestically-focused firms, we see clear evidence of the value that a strong national network brings. Ubiquity allows a firm to build detailed local knowledge, connections and expertise as well as to be on-hand whenever needed – factors valued by general counsel with higher workloads and lower budgets.”

Acritas’ London and UK Law Firm Brand Indexes were compiled from interviews with 353 UK-based general counsel and 119 overseas general counsel with UK needs who were asked five open-ended questions covering the following key measures of importance to law firms:

1)     Top of mind awareness

2)     Firms most favoured

3)     Firms considered for top level M&A

4)     Firms considered for bet-the-company litigation

5)     Firms used most for high value work.

Acritas' London Brand Index 2013

Acritas' UK Law Firm Brand Index 2013

For further information, please contact:

Michelle Nesbitt-Burrell, Marketing Manager


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