Baker & McKenzie: the top City firm with a presence in every corner of the world

Baker & McKenzie's graduate recruitment partner tells Hannah Langworth about the firm's market-leading London office and its distinctive global strategy
Where to work

Baker & McKenzie is one of the world's most international law firms.

The firm established its first overseas office shortly after its founding in Chicago in 1949, and had eight overseas offices by its tenth birthday.

Today, it's one of the world's largest law firms, with a presence in over 45 countries, including a large London office.

Going global - and local

"Our structure is about our clients," says David Allen, graduate recruitment partner in the firm's London corporate team.

"They often work on deals covering 20 or more jurisdictions, so the attraction of using us is that they instruct one office and we'll then co-ordinate the legal team globally - they don't have to talk to 20-plus firms all with different views of the way things should be done."

"As we've built up our structure over the last 60 years it's a very mature and well-developed one," says David, and it's much broader than those of many of Baker & McKenzie's competitors.

"Some global law firms have over 50 per cent of their lawyers in one office, but we're much more evenly spread out across the world," he explains, "- roughly a third in Europe and the Middle East, a third in Asia, and a third in the Americas."

Baker & McKenzie's global platform is also distinct because of the firm's emphasis on its lawyers being local lawyers as well as global ones.

"When you're speaking to, say, Italian or German clients," says David, "they really want their lawyers to understand their own market. And even when you're dealing with multinationals there often comes a crunch point on a deal or dispute when you really need to understand fully how something specific to a particular location works.

"As an expatriate you can have a good view, but it's the people who live and breathe a particular culture who have the best view."

But this focus on giving a tailored approach in each location doesn't stop Baker & McKenzie from offering a globally consistent service. David highlights regular regional practice group meetings and global knowledge management as two out of many ways the firm ensures it does so.

London calling

The London office is very important for the firm strategically. "London is the largest office globally, and the relationship partners for well over half of our key clients are based here," says David.

Many of the biggest multi-jurisdictional deals the firm undertakes are co-ordinated from London because these deals are often documented mainly under English law.

"English law is perceived worldwide to be a very stable legal system where what parties agree in a contract will be upheld by the courts," explains David.

"We're strong in the London market as well as being the London office of a global law firm," he adds. "We're a top ten City firm, and our ambition is to continue to push forward and offer clients and lawyers an alternative to the magic circle."

"We don't want to be exactly like the magic circle firms because we pride ourselves on our friendly, familial, and non-hierarchical way of doing things, which we think means our offices need to be medium-sized, not colossal."

The firm's combination of a strong global strategy and a determination to preserve a good working culture for its lawyers should interest ambitious graduates.

"If you want to build a successful long-term career in an office that's thinking globally and on an exciting trajectory, our London hub is a good place to be," says David.

David started his own legal career as a trainee at Baker & McKenzie's London office, becoming a partner three years ago after nine years at the firm, including postings to Moscow and Sydney.

So what next for Baker & McKenzie's global strategy? "The next frontier for us is Africa," says David. "It's very clear that there are so many opportunities for our clients there. We've been in Cairo for decades, opened offices in Johannesburg and Casablanca more recently, and may open up further offices in Africa."

But there's also still plenty of development to come in the firm's existing offices, he adds. "We also want to carry on working on the offices we already have, making sure we have the best position we can achieve in each market and, of course, the best people."

The trainee perspective

Mette Heemsoth

After gaining an LLB from King's College London, Mette joined Baker & McKenzie's London office, where she's now in her third seat of her training contract.

"I was first attracted to Baker & McKenzie because of its strong international reputation and the diverse nature of the firm, which sees colleagues from different countries and backgrounds working together - I'm German and, before getting my law degree, studied in the Netherlands.

I also liked the fact that one of the vacation schemes they had on offer went beyond two weeks in London - I spent a month in the firm's Frankfurt office.

The main factor in my decision to then apply to Baker & McKenzie for a training contract was the people I met from the firm. When you're a lawyer at a large commercial firm, the work is intellectually challenging and the working days can be intense, so having colleagues who are easy to work with really helps.

My first seat was in corporate finance, where I worked on mergers and acquisitions. I followed that with six months in EU competition and trade.

Now I'm in Brussels, where I'm working in EU law again. I haven't decided where I'm going to go for my final seat. I'm trying to find something that fits well with EU competition and trade work because that's the area I'd like to qualify into - I love the international dimension that you always get with this kind of work.

The firm takes a keen interest in how each trainee is developing as seats are allocated. Whether you go abroad or on a client secondment depends on what makes most sense for you - we never get sent somewhere for no particular reason.

It helps that trainee intakes here are small, around 35. I know everyone in my intake, and when I call HR they know immediately who I am.

Everyone here is approachable and supportive, and I've always felt part of the team. In Brussels, people have taken me for a drink after work, recommended places I should go to, and included me in office activities.

I've found this inclusiveness across all the Baker & McKenzie offices I've dealt with, but there's always also a national-specific aspect to the way things are done - most of the lawyers in any office are locals and know how to fit into the local market.

For example, the Frankfurt office felt very German to me as it was a little more formal than the London office. But it still had the flexible, open and friendly Baker & McKenzie culture that you find across the firm."

Max Harris

Max is in his third seat as a trainee at Baker & McKenzie in London and holds an LLB from King's College London.

"I'm very interested in technology and innovation and when I met an associate in Baker & McKenzie's technology team I was very attracted by what I heard about the quality of the firm's work in this area.

I also picked Baker & McKenzie because of its global capabilities which offer special opportunities for both clients and lawyers. A large amount of the work we do here has an international dimension and you can't avoid recognising the importance of the firm's global reach to its business.

I was also drawn to the firm by its social mobility schemes. I myself benefitted from one of these - the first exposure I had to Baker & McKenzie was when I got involved in one at school at the age of 16. I'm now involved myself with the firm's social mobility focus group.

My first seat was in the IT/commercial department, where I mainly dealt with privacy and outsourcing issues. It was an excellent department to start in, as they were really great at getting me involved and I always felt supported. I had plenty of client contact and even developed some client relationships of my own.

I then went on a secondment to a client in the technology/IT area. Seeing the in-house environment was invaluable - I really got to understand the industry as I developed a close relationship with the legal team but also worked with people across the business as a whole.

I'm now in the corporate tax team, where I've been involved in tax planning and corporate reorganisations. Our clients tend to be global companies - as soon as I joined the team I got involved with a multi-jurisdictional reorganisation, where I was working with lawyers in over twenty different countries.

I'm still deciding where to go for my fourth seat - I'm considering one of the US offices. I'm also very interested in India and speak a little Hindi, so have got involved in some India-related initiatives the firm has set up. Working with the Indian market makes sense as India is a global superpower and there are incredible business opportunities there.

Here there's a culture of ambition and a drive to be a top firm in the City and globally, but I also find the environment incredibly friendly. I can speak to anyone and they'll take on board what I'm saying.

There's a real feeling that all other lawyers here are your respected colleagues, including ones in other offices. I always feel that we're all part of the same team."