The UK private practice market has expanded in various ways over the last few years, including the introduction of dedicated patent litigation departments or, in some cases, expansion into Europe. We have been in close discussion with many UK firms who have looked at one or both of these avenues as part of their growth strategy. The unexpected outcome of the Brexit referendum has acted as a catalyst for many firms who have now moved the prospect of a European presence higher on their agenda. Indeed, many see this as an immediate priority.
Many firms are now seeking to develop a European presence and are keen to show that, whilst the UK public may have voted to leave the EU, the UK IP profession remains entirely committed to Europe. For many of our clients Munich and Paris are seen as the locations of choice.
Not all UK firms will target the development of a local client base in these jurisdictions – many will only aim to present a visible European footprint for their international clients. In these cases, the offices may have minimal dedicated staff and operational overheads.
For those firms genuinely seeking to be more proactive and develop a functioning practice group in a new EU jurisdiction, attracting and recruiting the right talent is a key requirement and is naturally seen as the most pressing issue.
In order to give such a venture the best chance of success, a pragmatic mind-set is a necessity. Harmonising professional working methods and firm culture across offices is an important strategic objective for any multi-jurisdictional firm, but if prioritised from day one, it can stifle growth. Firms in Germany for instance typically charge lower fees than their UK counterparts and are also far more likely to employ attorneys on a freelance basis.
Firms therefore need to be clear on their strategy for any new European venture and accurately assess local market conditions to develop a robust commercial plan.
In general, UK firms and professionals are highly regarded in Europe and the quality of their work is respected. Having worked in Europe extensively, we have the expertise and networks to introduce candidates who would see joining the new office of a UK firm as an attractive proposition.
Building a local team can be achieved in many ways, including lateral hires at Partner or Associate level, team moves or the acquisition of smaller practices. Firms may focus on particular technical areas to complement their current practice or look to bring in a team of attorneys with an existing client following. Behind all of these options is the need for clarity – both on strategy and commercial objectives.
Where we have acted for UK firms on such ventures in the past, we have generally advised them to begin the project with maximum flexibility on different hiring plans. We have found this approach allows our clients to progress multiple options concurrently rather than sequentially, which we believe is critical in achieving desired timescales.
We appreciate that every private practice has its own strategy and objectives and would be happy to advise our clients on a range of different approaches available to them.