How U.S. Companies Select International Outside Counsel

The best sources for international legal work from US corporate clients are referrals from other law firms and a good website presence, according to new research. Conversely, little work can be obtained by participating in RFP competitions.

More than ever, U.S. businesses have to find and select law firms in the countries in which they operate. To shed light on the buying behavior of U.S. corporate legal counsel, ALM (American Lawyer Media) conducted in-depth research among over 200 key corporate decision-makers involved in the purchasing of overseas legal services.

Despite the economic attraction of Asia’s rapid growth, the surveyed U.S. companies and divisions sought outside counsel most frequently in Europe, led by the UK (59 percent). Canada (50 percent) and the rising economic power China (46 percent) followed closely as the most requested individual countries. Other important legal markets and regions include Germany (40 percent) and Latin America (South America at 41 percent and Central America/Mexico at 36 percent).

How US corporations pick international law firms:

  • U.S. businesses often outsource complex cross-jurisdictional corporate and commercial matters to large, internationally operating law firms because they like "one-stop shopping."
  • The majority (87 percent) turn to their regular outside counsel in the U.S. for recommendations. Visibility with major U.S. law firms is a critical source for maintaining a steady flow of referrals.
  • A convincing online presence appears to be important for law firms: 66 percent of corporate counsel check websites and 20 percent use online search engines.
  • Other traditional marketing tools and resources such as seminars, conferences and events, articles and newsletters, advertising in legal publications and directories, can be effective as respondents indicate that they do consider such material when identifying and selecting overseas law firms.
  • Although requests for proposal are often used when hiring U.S. law firms, surprisingly few companies and divisions use an RFP for hiring overseas legal counsel. Only 6 percent “always use an RFP process,” while 17 percent use it in “specific situations” compared to the 77 percent majority who “do not use an RFP process.”

The 2007 study “How U.S. Companies Select International Outside Counsel” is now available online at  or email to obtain a free copy of the 18-page report.

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