International expansion is a top priority for a number of Chicago’s largest law firms, whose corporate clients increasingly do business across borders.
Unlike some of its rivals who’ve acquired foreign firms, Kirkland & Ellis has taken a measured approach to overseas growth. It opened its first office outside the United States in London in 1994 by moving some U.S. partners. Since then, Kirkland has established a second foreign outpost in Munich, Germany, and now is eyeing Hong Kong.
In 2004, the firm hired Francis Neate, a veteran London lawyer, to increase its international profile. Besides working for more than 30 years at Slaughter and May, one of London’s blue-chip firms, Neate was about to ascend to the presidency of the International Bar Association, one of the profession’s largest organizations with more than 30,000 members who primarily practice international law.
Taking a break from preparing for the IBA’s annual conference, which begins Sunday at McCormick Place in Chicago, the 66-year-old barrister, a 1963 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, shared his thoughts on the challenges facing global law firms. What follows is an edited transcript.