Baker McKenzie once again topped legal market research company Acritas’ latest ranking of global legal brands, and the firm has managed to grow its lead.
In the Acritas 2020 Global Elite Brand Index, the firm widened its margin over its two closest competitors, DLA Piper and Clifford Chance, from the last iteration of the rankings, released in October 2018. The two runners-up exchanged positions since then, with DLA Piper jumping ahead of Clifford Chance, but the distance between them and Baker McKenzie has only widened.
“Market disruption is an accepted reality for business, as new competition and technologies drive the pace of change faster than ever before,” Baker McKenzie global chair Milton Cheng said in a statement. “Our clients want lawyers who are prepared to lead, differentiate and adapt in a constantly changing world. We are unquestionably the leading cross-border law firm that large, global clients trust for complex transactional and other matters involving multiple jurisdictions.”
While Acritas has been ranking law firms in terms of brand strength for over a decade, this is the company’s first release since being acquired by Thomson Reuters in the fall.
Lisa Hart Shepherd, vice president of research and advisory services at Thomson Reuters, attributed Baker McKenzie’s dominance to its relatively early decision to prioritize a global approach.
“Everybody at the firm has bought in,” she said. “Whether you’re a new partner, a trainee, a lateral, you wouldn’t be there unless you’re interested in the international scale of the firm.”
Hart Shepherd compared that to other firms on the list that have aimed to reorient towards a global focus more recently: “They have a mix of talent, including some who might have preferred it when it was just a domestic firm.”
While many firms moved up or down within the top 20 this year, only four firms closed the gap on Baker McKenzie in Acritas’ point system: White & Case, CMS, Morgan Lewis and Kirkland & Ellis.
Over the last decade, Dentons has seen the biggest rise of any firm on the list, closing the gap on Baker McKenzie by 16 points. This growth coincides with the firm’s aggressive expansion, largely via combinations, to become the largest firm in the world, with a presence in 74 countries.
“That increased scale is helping them to win mindshare in the market,” Hart Shepherd said. “It’s taking a while to catch up to what the brand should be for their scale, but Dentons is still on the journey.”
Hart Shepherd noted that while the top 10 in the index is distinguished by a set of players that have been steady over the years thanks to a footprint that extends across all key continents, the firms in the second 10—apart from Dentons—still are anchored more in the U.S., or in Asia—King Wood & Mallesons—and Europe—CMS and Herbert Smith Freehills.
As it’s done since 2010, Acritas interviewed 1,600 respondents with responsibility for buying legal services at billion-dollar organizations across more than 50 countries and asked them to name the most well-known law firms, those that they perceived favorably, and those they would be most likely to use for cross-border deals and disputes.
By keeping questions consistent over time, Acritas has also found that on the whole, clients needs have grown more global: they are reporting a greater likelihood to require legal work outside of their home countries, are active in an increasing number of countries, and are boosting the percentage of their budget dedicated to overseas legal spending.
Next up for Acritas, in February, is the company’s inaugural Prestige Law Firm Brand Index, focusing on both the domestic and international firms most frequently considered for top-level work.