As recruiters we are no stranger to the globalising legal profession. But it is perhaps relatively recently that we have noticed a significant uptick in the number of firms seeking out specific business services talent to support their expansion overseas.
Our business is growing accordingly, and we have enjoyed building relationships with recruiters in key geographies as we expand our international reach – for example, our alliances with Seldon Rosser in the Asia-Pacific region and J. Johnson Executive Search in the US.
But it is perhaps the recent Dentons-Dacheng merger that has most reminded us of how dramatic the shifts in international recruitment have become.
Since the merger was announced in January 2015, the market has been abuzz with speculation as to what it will mean not just for this firm but for the profession as a whole. For while the coming together of Dentons and Dacheng may not be the first East-West hook-up (that prize goes to King & Wood Mallesons (KWM)), it’s certainly the biggest. With 6,600 lawyers worldwide, the newly combined firm dwarfs its nearest rival Baker & McKenzie by 50%.
Others will now be watching this merger with interest. They will be wondering how the firms will successfully integrate such vast operations – while overcoming sometimes significant cultural barriers. It seems inevitable too that some will now be reviewing their own growth strategies, and questioning whether they have their East/West balance right and are doing enough to claim and maintain market share in this key growth region.
While we can’t comment on this highest level of strategic decision making, in one respect we can share our expertise. We are finding that more firms operating in Asia are seeking out business services expertise to help seize these burgeoning opportunities, overcome the challenges of global competition and secure growth. The UK’s mature legal sector makes for ripe picking for such talent too, as firms seek out business services professionals who have the commercial sophistication to navigate this fast-shifting landscape.
We have recruited into a growing number of roles in several locations, including Australia, the UAE, Hong Kong and Singapore. As the Asian legal market fast develops, the need for talented business staff is also growing across offices in less obvious centres – Tokyo and Abu Dhabi (as oppose to Dubai) are just two recent examples of placements we have worked on.
We know that business development managers in all these areas are increasingly helping to shape their firms’ strategy and culture. We see them leading significant change projects, training and developing lawyers in key skills such as pricing and project management, meeting with clients and taking a lead in client relationship management.
With more international opportunities offering greater responsibilities and more rewarding challenges, we are also getting more candidates who are specifically seeking out such roles overseas. Those that have experience of the legal sector and are fluent in other languages are understandably in particularly high demand – although this can be a tricky call in more far-flung destinations.
Others are looking to join international firms in London for the longer term secondment opportunities they can offer to more distant shores. In a recent post, we spoke to several BD managers that have taken full-time jobs in the Asia-Pacific region. Not only do they relish their international roles, but they also feel that they have gained invaluable experience for the benefit of their long-term careers.
There remain more questions than answers over the long-term impact of the Dacheng-Dentons merger. But however this merger rolls out, it seems certain that it will not be the last of its kind.
We are confident too, that the firms that will be most successful through this transformative time will be those that employ and maximise the skills of a growing number of business services professionals who can help ensure the success of these most far-reaching global endeavours.