Lawyers Abroad: The Internationalization of Legal Practice

by Debora Spar



Since the late 1960s, a number of U.S. and British law firms have quietly, and successfully, gone global. Traipsing after their far-flung corporate clients, these law firms have slowly but steadily established their own global networks. Unlike the manufacturing firms that preceded them abroad, law firms are essentially service firms, selling the ephemeral products of information, skills, and advice. As such, they rank among the first global providers of information-based services. This article takes a first cut at analyzing and underscoring the internationalization of the legal practice. It explores how law firms have entered the international economy and flags the issues that seem most relevant to their success and sustainability. The four factors that have contributed most directly to their success-- size, reputation, "walking assets," and a balance between global and local interests--are not specific to the legal profession but are equally applicable to other information-based industries.

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