Multinational Clients in Control of Global Law Firm Brand Success

Client power and legal market competition have finally tipped the balance in favour of the law firms with the strongest multi-jurisdictional presence and capabilities, a collaborative working style and value focus.

Acritas’ fifth annual Global Elite Law Firm Brand Index reveals the firms which are adapting most successfully to the changing market and winning client loyalty and favourability as a result.

Baker & McKenzie retains its top position for the fifth year running with a clear 39 point lead over its nearest competitor. The firm’s unmatched global footprint as well as its strength in multi-jurisdictional deals and litigation, are driving exceptional brand awareness and favourability levels among in-house counsel.

In second place, Clifford Chance has maintained its standing across the globe, outperforming its revenue rank of fifth. The strength of the Clifford Chance brand in the US, grounded in its historic merger, has safeguarded its position as the strongest Magic Circle brand in the world. The firm’s popularity for multi-jurisdictional work as well as its prominence in Europe have further contributed to its position.

Beyond the top two leading brands lie the most telling changes in this year’s Index with premium priced firms losing brand equity to ‘business law firms’.  For the first time, positions three and four – held by Magic Circle firms for the last four years – have been conceded to two rapidly rising stars of the global legal world – Norton Rose Fulbright and DLA Piper.

A widely publicised series of successful mergers have fuelled Norton Rose Fulbright’s meteoric rise from 15th in 2010 to third this year – the greatest five year rise of any firm in the Index. Norton Rose Fulbright has benefited from the expanded reach and expertise created through its combinations to achieve high levels of favourability among in-house counsel who also value the firm’s key industry sector approach. Norton Rose Fulbright’s prominence in the US, its lead in Canada and top three ranking globally belie its tenth place revenue position.

DLA Piper has also reaped the rewards of merger and having a recognised and respected leading brand in the US – the market which still dominates international workflows. This status combined with its reputation for multijurisdictional litigation and expertise, notably in the technology sector, have contributed to the firm’s steady rise through the ranks to fourth this year from tenth in 2011.

Successful combinations have in part driven the popularity of several other firms among in-house counsel. King & Wood Mallesons first entered the Index in 2012 in 16th place and has risen a rank each year thanks to its continued growth in its traditional heartland of Asia Pacific and by expanding its reach and expertise through merger with SJ Berwin.

Herbert Smith Freehills takes 11th position, far exceeding its revenue rank of 19th thanks to its strength in Asia Pacific and the UK, multi-jurisdictional litigation and among energy clients.

Dentons has also benefited from growing its international reach through its significant three-way merger last year which saw it enter the ranks of the leading global brands. This year it has advanced two ranks moving to tied 17th.

Speaking about the results, Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Acritas, said: “In such a dynamic, competitive market, it is vital for firms to listen to clients and swiftly adapt to their changing needs. The firms gaining brand strength most rapidly are those which consistently invest in understanding the market and who aren’t afraid to take new approaches.

“In the face of such a sea-change in the way legal services are delivered, clear vision, strong leadership and sophisticated management of both the front and back office are fundamental to success. It is clear from the highest risers in the Index that a long term investment and planning approach pays off. Despite this, some firms choose to ignore this route in favour of short term profits – at their peril.

“Never has it been more important to develop a well-defined offering that meets clients’ current and anticipated needs and to communicate this point of difference clearly and consistently. Successful brands engender confidence and higher levels of client satisfaction and loyalty, which in turn lead to greater market share and profits.”

The power of market differentiation is clear in the results of the Global Elite industry sub-indices which reveal a quite different set of brand results: Norton Rose Fulbright leads in energy/utilities/mining; while Baker & McKenzie maintains its top spot for technology/media/telecommunications.

Being a regional powerhouse is another route to brand strength, especially in the lower ranks of the Index. Three brands hold joint 20th position this year: Amarchand & Mangaldas is the stand-out brand in India; Simpson Thacher gains almost all its brand strength in the US and CMS performs strongly across Europe.

Nevertheless, the majority of firms are not differentiated and share an almost identical brand profile. In a crowded market however, stand-out is critical. It is therefore logical that Baker & McKenzie, a firm that has an established reputation for thinking and acting globally, has become the most differentiated recognised and favoured brand in the world.

Beyond the top 20, a further ten firms with 11 to 12 Index points narrowly miss out on the top rankings. Among this set, the importance of a strong US presence in achieving brand strength is underlined with eight of these ten firms being US-led.

Acritas’ research underlines the power that the top brands command with the top 20 controlling a disproportionate share of total global brand equity: 34% of all awareness globally; 28% of favourability; and a staggering 56% of consideration for multi-jurisdictional deals and 57% of consideration for multi-jurisdictional litigation.

Looking to the future, it will be interesting to watch the progress of the firms in the latest round of mergers – Squire Sanders, Akin Gump, Morgan Lewis and Bingham. There will no doubt be more mega-mergers bringing regional, industry and practice heavyweights together to fill capability and coverage gaps. There will be more disruption to the traditional line-up of the global legal power brands, and the industry’s obsession with ‘heritage brands’ and the highest PEP will continue to wane.


For further information, please contact: Michelle Nesbitt-Burrell, Marketing Manager on: 0808 178 3020


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