Littler Adds to Growing Global Network

, The Am Law Daily

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MERGERS: Littler Mendelson

As winter prepares to take hold in North America, national labor and employment firm Littler Mendelson is setting its sights on warmer climes.

The San Francisco–based Am Law 100 firm, which has roughly 1,000 lawyers in the United States, announced Monday that it will absorb 22-lawyer Puerto Rican firm Schuster Aguilo into its Littler Global network as of Jan. 1. The move marks the firm’s latest effort to expand its presence in Latin America.

The Am Law Daily reported in October that Littler had embraced the Swiss verein structure, under which member firms maintain separate profit pools, for its growing global network while adding firms in Colombia and Costa Rica. The shift came in the wake of Littler's earlier moves into Venezuela in 2010 and Mexico in 2011.

Thomas Bender, Littler's Philadelphia-based copresident and managing director, says the “beauty of the verein” structure has allowed his firm to establish a closer relationship with firms throughout Latin America as it aims to boost its ability to serve a multinational client base.

“Clients are looking to reduce the number of lawyers they use,” says Jeremy Roth, Littler's other copresident and managing director. The firm’s “two-pronged” expansion strategy is to better serve its current clients and develop a “regional solution” for large companies seeking to tap into a single network for their labor and employment needs in the region, Roth says.

A U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico has long been home to numerous companies in the retail and hospitality and pharmaceutical industries. More recently, the Caribbean island has become a hotbed for financial services firms seeking certain tax breaks. Bender says Littler represents companies in all three sectors, noting that while Puerto Rico’s local court proceedings are conducted in Spanish, the island's federal courts use English.

Littler has a long-standing relationship with many of the lawyers at San Juan–based Schuster Aguilo, and Bender and Roth say the firm's addition to Littler Global will help create what they hope will be a “seamless” client platform in Latin America.

While many of Latin America's economies are growing, Roth and Bender acknowledge that they still remain small when compared to those in the world's more developed nations. The key for Littler has been not to incur additional “brick-and-mortar” costs by opening its own outposts in those regions, Bender says, or even to tap into the local revenues of its affiliated firms—a potential violation of the Swiss verein structure.

Instead, Littler is keen on building a leading labor and employment brand it hopes more multinational U.S. companies will tap for assignments inside and outside the country due to the firm's expanded operations in Central America. “This is a minimal risk, low-reward operation,” Bender adds.

Littler’s international expansion efforts led it to formally withdraw from global employment law alliance Ius Laboris on Jan. 1, 2013. The firm had replaced Seyfarth Shaw in 2008 as the alliance’s main U.S. component, according to our previous reports, and this summer Ius Laboris tapped a replacement for Littler in Ford Harrison.

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