Networks, or global alliances, have long been accepted as a traditional business model for many professional services including accounting, human resources, public relations, architectural services, insurance, investment banking and real estate. According to the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, even manufacturers like Procter & Gamble have seen the benefits of outsourcing research and development to a greater network. Beginning in 2001, it developed a concept called Connect & Develop, with a goal of developing half its ideas from inside and half from outside the company. Essentially, any professional firm — including law firms — that operates locally but has clients in multiple markets is a potential member of a network. While legal networks have been in existence for nearly 30 years, there are four key trends happening now in the legal industry that are driving demand for network services: technology, globalisation, the changing roles of in-house counsel and multijurisdictional transactions.
The merging of networks with technology serves as a powerful disrupter for several industries, including transportation with Uber, job recruitment with LinkedIn, hospitality with Airbnb and funding with Kickstarter.That same powerful combination of networks and technology is also disrupting the legal field. Just like Uber and Airbnb – whose very business models depend on a network or community marketplace that can provide transportation or accommodations – legal networks can provide a trusted community marketplace where businesses can seek legal support.
While independent national firms provide exceptional jurisdictional and legal experience in a specific market, there are benefits for firms seeking to join a legal network. Firms can remain independent and keep their unique culture intact. Networks, meanwhile, provide them with access to a global footprint for existing clients as well as an opportunity to grow revenue with inbound referrals. This global reach and accessibility is powered by technology.
One trend that is already emerging from the increased utilisation of technology is the growing fear around cybersecurity. Law firms are worried about the protection of client data. In-house law departments need their firms to be compliant. A strong network will already have, or will be in the process of, developing standards around cybersecurity.
Globalisation and changing roles for in-house counsel
For businesses with a global growth strategy, advancements in communication technology and globalisation have made it easier for a business to reach its goals by deploying members of its legal department to locations around the world. In an effort to maintain in-house control of their business in each location, leadership may look to these remote legal team members to offer more than legal support by managing more aspects of the business in those markets. As a result, lawyers are presented with both enormous opportunities and challenges in their expanding roles. Additionally, supporting in-house staff in other jurisdictions, including emerging markets, could mean higher expenses from larger, multinational firms or lost opportunities.
Utilising local firms
In order to expand into new markets successfully, companies need to utilise a legal resource that is already on the ground. The sweeping transformation of the legal market gives business a greater selection when outsourcing legal providers and ways to control costs. Utilising a local firm that already has been prequalified by a network can provide richer support because the local firm is familiar with local laws and customs. It can also save a considerable amount of time and money.
As business transactions become increasingly cross border, we’re also seeing an increase in multijurisdictional deals where the types of legal services required – expertise in multiple jurisdictions, cost control – play to the strengths of a strong, independent legal network. Earlier this year, Meritas member firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless in Salt Lake City, Utah, had a client that was acquired by a Japanese company and had immediate legal needs around the world. Link Japan Careers Inc. recruits English speakers throughout the world for placement with government and private entities in Japan. Parr Brown Gee & Loveless explained that, with expertise in the local law and regulations applicable to their activities, Meritas could provide high-quality legal work at a reasonable price to meet its short timeline. Ultimately, more than 30 Meritas member firms in 24 countries supported this effort.
Contacting a network
Networks can be contacted in one of three ways: through the local member firm, a member firm in another market or through network staff. Expect responses within one business day. An effective network will provide a rigorous selection process for its members to ensure the highest standards of service and expertise regardless of jurisdiction. Additionally, its members will undergo regular reviews to maintain membership. The network should also operate at a high level of transparency and at affordable rates, with no hidden fee-sharing or commissions.
Tanna Moore is the President and CEO of Meritas, a global legal network representing more than 7500 lawyers in 241 markets spanning 90 countries.