Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner charts a course in Europe, undeterred by talent wars and economic uncertainty

Inflation, economic downturn, fierce competition for labor and talent, changing client and lawyer expectations: is it time for another full-service international law firm to make waves in the European market?

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner has more than tripled his number of lawyers in Paris since 2020 with teams and partners hired by rivals like white and case, Allen & OveryRudnick Brown, CMS and EY. In Germany, it also expanded, bringing its workforce to 60.

And the growth continues. Firm co-chairs Lisa Mayhew and Steve Baumer said they are committed to continued growth in Germany. And the rapid expansion of Paris prompted a move to a larger space This year-one that could accommodate not just the recent hires, but the manyindividual attorneys and teams yet to come.

The firm has just added a two-person real estate team from the French firm De Pardieu Brocas Maffei to develop an urban planning practice, bringing the Paris office to 72 lawyers, including 19 partners. Two side partner recruitments are underway for later this fall, one in M&A and the other in international arbitration, according to Olivier Mesmin and Constantin Achillas, co-managers of BCLP Paris. If history is any guide, they probably won’t come alone.

“I wouldn’t be surprisedsed if we would be 100 lawyers in two, three years,” Achillas said.

Constantine Achilles

By pursuing aggressive growth in France and Germany, the largest and most important legal markets on the continent, BCLP aims to become a full-service company in Europe, providing an international platform for local customers and a local platform for international customers.

The firm has chosen teams to establish itself in rock star practices such as mergers and acquisitions, white collar investigations and litigation, putting BCLP in direct competition not only with the top 50 international companies, but also with well-established local companies like Bredin Prat in France and Hengeler Mueller in Germany.

Solid financial performance last year helps support the European push. BCLP’s worldwide net income increased 9.8% on a 2.1% increase in revenue. And Europe is starting to pay.

“Business is coming to Paris now that wouldn’t have come a few years ago,” when BCLP’s office was “probably perceived by larger companies as too small to give us the job,” Achillas said. “Now we’ve reached a size where we’re definitely a factor, and we’re seeing that in the workflow.”

The merger and the road to Paris

In 2018, while based in the UK Berwin Leighton Paisner merged with US-headquartered Bryan Cave, creating a fully integrated transatlantic firm of 1,200 lawyers, Few outside the company believed that newly appointed Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner would make Europe the center of his global ambitions.

“Of all the transatlantic mergers, BCLP made the least sense at the time,” a partner at an international recruitment firm told Law.com International.

Berwin Leighton Paisner was seen as a real estate company that dabbled in other things with some success, the recruiter said, noting “it had pockets of excellence in structured finance, usually tied to real estate, and good business practice in the UK.

“But it was hard to understand what Bryan Cave was doing in Europe,” continued the recruiter, adding that he was strong in finance and banking but not very open to international business.

Olivier Mesmin
Olivier Mesmin

Bryan Cave had a European presence, including offices in Hamburg, Frankfurt, London and Paris. But it was relatively small. European Expansion was actually a driver of the merger, according to Mayhew, who was then managing partner of the British firm.

Berwin Leighton Paisner “didn’t just want it to be a real estate shop,” she said. In addition to London, it had offices in Asia, the Middle East, Germany and Moscow but nothing in Paris. And that particularly limited the firm’s transactional capabilities with clients looking to do pan-European deals.

“This triangle of major capital markets in Europe – France, Germany and the UK – was really where our customers needed us the most to have on-the-ground capabilities,” she said. .

Admittedly, since Brexit, international firms of various sizes have opened or expanded offices on the continent to strengthen their European presence in addition to and independently of their London bases. The beneficiaries were Paris, the center of mergers and acquisitions and private equity, and the main German business cities of Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Munich.

Despite the competition, BCLP continued its push. Once he has identified the areas of practice he wishes to develop – M&A and litigation in Paris, for example, or use in Germany, it is looking for partners or teams that wish to participate in what it considers to be its “enterprise spirit”. He then deploys partners to those practice groups, not just from those offices but from various locations, underscoring the importance the firm places on teamwork across offices and countries, Mayhew said.

Paris was one of the first tests of this expansion strategy and has since become a model and a tool: when BCLP was in talks with four DLA Piper partners to join Frankfurt, the Paris partners joined in the discussions , describing how their team was put together and how the integration worked. DLA partners – in real estate, finance and restructuring –joined in June.

“The Parisian partners were part of the recruiting,” Mayhew said. “We were able to arm it for other teams to join us.”

Targeting teams and touting integration can be the smart game, especially in a competitive market like Paris, say partners from other international companies.

“If you want to grow in Paris, you need to make sure that one plus one equals more than two – that the person you hire is fully aligned with your business or they will eventually leave,” a managing partner of an international firm. company said.

Bringing in a team is also a way of dealing with “a very difficult partner market” in Paris, says another partner. “Young lawyers want something different, especially when it comes to work-life balance, and money alone won’t solve the problem. If you hire a team, you get associates, and that can be just as important as having partners.

However, not everything has been easy, whether in terms of recruitment or business development.

Paris, in particular, is a very sophisticated market, with transactions at the highest level and many industrial clients deeply connected” to their businesses, said Nick Carrad, managing director of the partner firm and principal consultant in Paris at Major, Lindsey & Africa.

The Parisian market also experienced a wave of store openings over the past two years, particularly in private equity, which “represent a challenge for the model of an international full-service firm”, according to a Parisian managing partner.

“Clients, especially financial clients, now tend to split the work between multiple firms, even within a single transaction, rather than going to one firm for all of their needs,” the partner said. . “The challenge for an international firm developing in Paris is to find the right mix: what you offer, what you outsource and what makes sense for clients.

BCLP also faced competition for talent from other international companies. In January 2021, for example, the Paris office lost 18 lawyers, including his managing partner, who left to form the Paris office of Addleshaw Goddard. Addleshaws has since implemented its own growth strategy, expanding into Paris and Germany and opening in Luxemburg.

Although BCLP says the split in Paris was amicable, it was nonetheless hard to digest, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’re never too surprised that when you’ve got massive growth, it’s statistically almost impossible to get 100% of the people on the pitch on board,” Achillas said.

“The start of 2021 has been difficult,” he continued. “You see people packing up and leaving, you’re in the middle of COVID – you feel unsettled.”

But Achillas became a philosopher.

“When you’re in adversity, you have to move on. We didn’t have time to look at each other and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s complicated. Every day there was a little improvement. And, looking back, at least it was exciting.

The pandemic has set BCLP back a few years in its mission to ensure that European teams get to know the rest of the company and each other. But the firm’s management is working on it.

Paris partners visited the London office in droves earlier this year for two days of presentations, business meetings and “wine and dinner”, said Mesmin, who organized the trip with the London managing partner, Segun Osuntokun. A similar road trip to London is planned soon for the German offices.

The global economy, meanwhile, is showing signs of strain and law firms could face a slowdown in work. But BCLP is optimistic that work will continue in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, and plans to continue its growth trajectory.

“The key is to be able to attract talented people,” said Mesmin, citing the example of the White & Case litigation and investigations team recruited in 2022. “The BCLP brand was not particularly well known in the French market in 2020. And now we see there’s more attention because of the growth story.”

Denise W. Whigham