Wednesday 18 September 2019 12:01 am

US law firms struggling to displace UK elite in FTSE boardrooms

Despite the march of US law firms on the City legal market, new data published today shows their UK rivals still dominate the boardrooms of British bluechips.

US law firms have invested heavily in London in the last decade, taking prized partners from the domestic elite.

Firms such as Kirkland & Ellis and Weil Gotshal & Manges have built formidable City private equity practices, while the likes of Latham & Watkins and White & Case dominate areas such as leveraged finance and non-bank lending.

However, data released today by Adviser Rankings shows US firms have still not cracked the stranglehold domestic firms have on UK corporate relationships.

Read more: How would City law fare in another downturn?

Only two US law firms – White & Case and Baker Mckenzie – advise more than 10 main market-listed UK companies. 

That number shrinks further when it comes to the FTSE 100, with Baker McKenzie leading the way with three clients, followed by Sullivan & Cromwell with two. 

For the FTSE 250, Baker Mckenzie and White & Case are tied on four clients, followed by Latham & Watkins, Shearman & Sterling and Weil Gotshal & Manges tied on two clients. 

In contrast, Slaughter and May advises 33 FTSE 100 companies, Allen & Overy 26, Linklaters 25, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 23 and Herbert Smith Freehills 17.

“It’s a big challenge to build up the full-service talent and credibility that UK corporate clients look for and so far the US firms have not managed to do so,” Slaughter and May head of corporate Andy Ryde said.

“Faced with a transformational or complex project, most corporates will still want to come to a Slaughters, Freshfields or Linklaters and no one will turn round to the board and say ‘what on earth were you doing?’”

White & Case corporate partner Patrick Sarch, who joined from Clifford Chance in 2017, said his firm is investing heavily in cultivating relationships with UK corporates.

“There is a big perception battle to be won,” Sarch said. “It’s a slow and steady game.”

Read more: City’s elite Magic Circle law firms under pressure from expansion of US entrants

Helen Bradley, Baker Mckenzie’s London corporate finance head, said some US firms in London “just want to do the big ticket deals”.

“Our strategy will be much closer to the Magic Circle,” Bradley said. “We want to be retained advisers to FTSE companies, we see value in that.”

Sarch said: “You have to show these guys you are committed and not looking simply to monetise the short-term relationship.

“We are building our brand into a position where we and one or two other US firms in the UK can really match the Magic Circle and the incumbents.”

Total US law firm stock market clients (excluding Aim)

FirmClient count
White & Case15
Baker Mckenzie14
Covington & Burling 6
Latham & Watkins6
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton3
Goodwin Procter3
Shearman & Sterling3
Sullivan & Cromwell3
Weil Gotshal & Manges3
Cravath Swaine & Moore2