If a year is a long time in politics, then 150 years in legal practice must equate to an entire era. Coudert Brothers has achieved this milestone. Founded in New York by Frederic Rene Coudert in 1853, the firm is now celebrating “not simply having survived 150 years, but having thrived”, according to global chairman David Huebner (right). Asia Legal Times had a talk with him about the firm’s views on – well, the firm.

Coudert ranked 71st in The AM Law 2002 listing of US firms by gross revenue; it had gross revenue of US$251m and 586 lawyers. The firm’s website currently claims more than 650 lawyers.
Coudert’s Sydney office maintains a relatively low profile on the domestic scene, but Huebner says Australia remains “a very important market” for Coudert. “We certainly have a desire to continue to grow in Sydney in all our practice areas,” says Huebner. Although a merger is not on the cards, Huebner met with three “very attractive” lateral partner prospects during his stay, with the aim of boosting the office’s litigation, corporate, property and banking practices.

Huebner’s next destination was Shanghai, a city in which Coudert is investing heavily. The Chinese Ministry of Justice officially awarded the firm licence number ‘001’ in 1992 the first licence awarded to a foreign firm. But Coudert was exploring opportunities in the market well before then. “We entered China with [former US president] Nixon, and Russia before there was a hint of a developing market,” says Huebner.

However, while the firm is certainly among the longest established of international firms in China, interestingly it failed to make it as a finalist in the “China Practice” category of the recent 2003 Asian Legal Business Awards.

Huebner claims the Asia-Pacific region is one of the “busiest” for the firm. It is devising a three- to five-year strategic growth plan, targeting “three to four primary offices” including its China practices for expansion, as well as exploring opportunities in Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. But according to Huebner the firm is in no great rush.

“Our history has been not to wait until things are stable and profitable, because by then it’s far too late,” says Huebner, and while he acknowledges the risks inherent in such a strategy, he claims it has paid dividends.

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