How Big Can A Law Firm Become?

How Big Can A Law Firm Become?

How big can a law firm get? If you’re already the biggest in the world, then the question is how much bigger?

Dentons are planning to emulate the model successfully employed by the Big Four accounting firms, by continuing it is growth strategy that has, according to global CEO Elliott Portnoy, “no logical end”.

Dentons is the biggest law firm in the world by lawyer numbers and has made its merger agreement with McKenna Long & Aldridge following its merger earlier in the year with Chinese law firm Dacheng.

The world’s largest law firm aims to get bigger as it seeks to replicate the Big Four accounting firm model.

Dentons’ global chief executive officer, Elliott Portnoy, told the Wall Street Journal that “there is no logical end” to how big the firm might become. “We’re going to be driven by our strategy,” he said.

Dentons’ global chairman, Joseph Andrew, tells the Wall Street Journal that the law firm hopes to disprove he idea that conflicts are the inevitable consequence of growth. A law firm that seeks more types of work–including routine and low-margin work–won’t be saddled with conflicts, Andrew and Portnoy say.

Some observers have questioned whether growing larger will aid the firms’ partners or clients, the story says. But the world’s second largest law firm, Baker & McKenzie, says in a statement that Dentons’ mergers are proof that the legal market “is becoming more truly global.”

And legal consultant Peter Zeughauser told the Wall Street Journal Dentons’ expansion could offer a hint of the future. “I think we’re going to see a 10,000-lawyer law firm within five years,” he told the Wall Street.

The legal market is becoming increasingly segmented. While revenue at large, corporate law firms rose by close to 5% last year, a small group of elite law firms—many of which have benefited from the recent boom in mergers-and-acquisitions work—is outpacing the rest.

Unlike many of these elite firms, Dentons is positioning itself to do more routine, low-margin work for clients in addition to so-called bet-the-company matters, say Messrs. Portnoy and Andrew.

That includes representing individuals in areas like trust and estate work and entrepreneurs facing small-business issues. In January, it absorbed a six-lawyer New York firm focused on work for tech startups and venture-backed companies.
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