Loved an article in this month’s Asia Law Business, entitled, “Boutique firms gain market from general practices.” The article is written by Rashida Yosufzai and I have multiple reasons for loving it. First, the headline alone is music to my ears as my firm is, as far as I know, the only United States law firm that bills itself as an international law boutique. The article then reaffirms what I thought this recession would do, which is cause companies to move their Asia legal work to boutique law firms to decrease costs and improve services:

Once viewed as the underdogs in the world of the big law firms, specialist and independent firms are benefiting from the post-financial-crisis era of tightened legal budgets. Since the economic downturn, these firms have gained major clients who are moving from bigger firms in the search for lower fees and tailored legal services. “There’s been a migration from companies that used to rest their work in larger, more general practices moving to seek the value they can derive from specialised practices,” says Farah Namazie, the founder of Singapore-based IP & technology firm Namazie & Co. “Ironically for us, during the economic downturn there has been an increase in work.”
In Korea, IP boutique Cho & Partners is also reporting increased workloads from its portfolio of MNCs. “When the economy is bad, many large and sophisticated MNCs start re-thinking their choice of firms they use, and whether they really needed to hire the biggest firms to handle their IP matters,” says Ik Hyun Seo, a partner at Cho & Partners. “They start pushing firms for fee reductions, and search for other options to get the same level of service, without paying the highest rates in the country.”
Competitive legal fees and flexibility are the two main weapons in the specialist firms’ arsenal. Even in the US where firms
have been hit hard by the crisis, specialist firms are also benefiting from the legal market ‘shifts.’ Although Harris Bricken
– a US-based international law practice that focuses on Asia – did feel the economic downturn in 2009, it recorded its
busiest-ever January and February this year. “That’s largely due to our getting a number of larger-than-normal clients,
many of whom have told us that they’re tired of paying “big firm” prices and like our flat-fee rates,” says co-founder Dan
Harris.

Companies are using boutiques not just to save money, but also to get better access to experienced lawyers:

Even without the financial crisis, specialist firms say they are able to gain market share by being flexible and building relationships. That has been the experience of Singapore shipping firm Navin & Co. “Clients tell us fairly often that in
specialist boutique law firms like ours they have much easier access to senior partners; the relationship is far more informal
and there’s greater flexibility in discussing various issues,” says managing partner Navinder Singh. “Whereas larger firms
they feel are institutionalised and corporatised, and that may distance certain clients.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself…..
What do you think?

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.