Tech-Savvy U.K. Firm Osborne Clarke to Open in New York

, The Am Law Daily

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Osborne Clarke, the U.K.'s 35th-largest law firm by revenue, will open its second U.S. outpost next week by launching an office in New York, The Am Law Daily has learned. The office, which will initially be staffed by a rotation of attorneys from elsewhere in the Osborne Clarke network, will focus on inbound and outbound U.K. law work in the advertising and digital business sectors. Firm leaders say the New York office will work closely with Osborne Clarke's existing U.S. base in Palo Alto, which opened in 2001. It will be the firm’s 16th office worldwide.

Adrian Bott, head of Osborne Clarke’s technology, media and telecommunication practice—which he describes as a “significant focus” for the 600-lawyer firm—says that New York is fast becoming an established center for technology companies.

“We’ve recently been seeing a fairly rapid increase in the activities of our technology clients on the East Coast—a very vibrant community has built up in New York around digital media and advertising technology,” he explains. “Palo Alto and New York are clearly the two biggest centers for those sectors in the U.S. [Having offices in both places] gives us a completeness of coverage and enables us to tap into a community that has a significant amount of interest in expanding into Europe.”

Osborne Clarke senior partner Tim Birt says that the U.S. is the firm’s most significant international market. (Osborne Clarke also has offices in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain.) The 170-partner firm currently generates around £13.5 million ($22 million) in revenue through U.S.-related legal work, accounting for some 12 percent of firmwide revenue. The firm has also seen recent growth in Spain and Italy through mergers with alliance partners Osborne Clarke Spain and SLA Studio Legale Associatos, helping raise gross revenue 14 percent to £112 million ($180 million) during the most recent fiscal year, which ended April 30.

Osborne Clarke currently acts for a number of major U.S.-based technology companies, advising Facebook in Europe, representing Dell on advertising-related matters, and sitting on Amazon's pan-European legal panel. The firm also represents several rapid growth tech companies, such as apartment-sharing website Airbnb and Rocket Fuel, which uses “artificial intelligence” technology to improve digital advertising, and whose shares nearly doubled in their first day of trading following its IPO this September. An Osborne Clarke spokeswoman says that, since opening in the U.S. in 2001, the firm has acted on more than 400 outbound matters involving U.S. clients in Europe.

The New York base will be run on what the firm calls a "semi-permanent" basis. It will initially launch with 10 partners—including Birt, Bott, and London managing partner Andrew Saul, who established the firm’s Palo Alto base—but will then revert to a system under which partners from throughout Osborne Clarke’s network complete short-term secondments in the U.S., with two or more partners working out of the office at any time.

As the office "gains traction and momentum," Birt says, the firm will periodically review whether to introduce permanent fee-earners. The Palo Alto office also started out as a semi-permanent outpost, but hired its first full-time resident within 12 months and now has four permanent fee-earners, Birt adds, although he doesn’t expect New York to make that transition as quickly. As is the case in Palo Alto, the New York office will be exclusively U.K. law. The firm has no plans to hire U.S. lawyers or to practice U.S. law, Birt says: "That’s never been part of our model."

Osborne Clarke is the latest U.K. firm to set up shop in New York. Herbert Smith Freehills launched a New York office in September 2012 following the hire of a six-partner commercial litigation team from Chadbourne & Parke, while Ashurst, Clyde & Co, and the four international Magic Circle firms— Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Linklaters—also have offices in the city. The legacy U.K. practices of verein firms Dentons, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Squire Sanders also gained New York footholds as a result of their trans-Atlantic combinations.

For an in-depth analysis of the performance of the Magic Circle firms in New York, see the upcoming feature "The Not-So-Special Relationship" in the November 2013 issue of The American Lawyer.

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