The "Global 100" is out, presented jointly in The American Lawyer and in The Lawyer.  Like the AmLaw 100, the "Global 100" ranks firms by revenue (as opposed to, say, lawyer headcount or profits per partner), and here are some of the highlights.

First, the top ten:

2006 Rank Firm Gross Revenue
1 Clifford Chance International (U.K.) $1,875,000,000
2 Linklaters International (U.K.) $1,702,000,000
3 Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom New York $1,610,000,000
4 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer International (U.K.) $1,605,500,000
5 Latham & Watkins National (U.S.) $1,412,500,000
6 Baker & McKenzie International (U.S.) $1,352,000,000
7 Allen & Overy International (U.K.) $1,340,000,000
8 Jones Day National (U.S.) $1,285,000,000
9 Sidley Austin National (U.S.) $1,124,000,000
10 White & Case International (U.S.) $1,046,000,000

Now let’s get behind the numbers:

  • 75 of the 100 are US-headquartered
  • 17 are from the UK
  • 5 are Australian
  • 1 is Canadian (McCarthy Tetrault at #77)
  • 1 is French (Fidal at #82) and
  • 1 is Dutch (Loyens & Loeff at #99)

In other words, 98 of the Global 100 are from the former British Empire. Can this be accidental?  If not, why such a concentration?   Is something going on here that we can say anything meaningful about?

I would suggest two things:

  • The most obvious, first, is that English is the de facto language
    of global business.  This is true not only for US or UK multinationals,
    but for firms like Nokia that could ostensibly choose another language.  Fluency
    in English—as first, second, or nth language—is a condition of
    employment, for example, at McKinsey.  As one partner there put it,
    "How can we pretend to be a ‘one-firm firm’ without a common language?"  Nor
    has it seemed to hamper their search for talent.
  • But far more important, I believe, is that the Anglo-Saxon heritage of
    the common law is infinitely elastic; it’s not limited to what the drafters
    of the Napoleonic Code have already dreamed up or specified as permissible
    or do-able.  Every day common law courts are presented with "unprecedented"
    questions which, as they are resolved, settle the expectations of those similarly
    situated and, thanks to the newly minted precedent, provide genuine guidance
    for future behavior. 

The second point means simply this:  If you want to specify the template
for a junk bond, say, describing
that security in English under the common law system is pretty much the only
realistic option you have.  (By the way, an unheralded aspect of Michael
Milken’s true genius was to do just this, and thus make the hitherto-heterogeneous
world of junk debt one homogeneous species, tradable commodites which
investment bankers and brokers could slice and dice into known quantities, "tranches," baskets,

Combine the presumption of the enforceability of contracts (securities indentures, e.g.) with the willingness to indulge the voluntary agreements of consenting adults, and global markets become possible—global markets, importantly, in financial instruments hitherto unimagined.

I’m not arguing that the traditions of Anglo-Saxon common law are intrinsically
superior to other systems (our law libraries overflow with bizarre, wrong-headed,
baffling, and just plain clueless opinions), but I am arguing that it is:

  • malleable, flexible, and extensible; and
  • once extended, can with reasonable confidence be relied upon.

There’s a deep analogy here to US securities law, at least pre-Sarbanes Oxley.  "Classic"
securities law, near and dear to my heart and head, can roughly be summed up
thus:   "You can do anything, so long as you faithfully
disclose it."  The common law extends a similar invitation.

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