The global threat to U.S. law

Larry Ribstein —  16 December 2011

A lot of ink has been spilled about the technology threat to traditional law practice. But U.S. law firms need also to worry about lawyers elsewhere in the world. 

The WSJ reports that Beijing-based King & Wood is planning to join with Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques to form Hong Kong-based verein King & Wood Mallesons.  It would be the largest non-U.S. or U.K law firm merger. 

Obviously the law business is following the global economy to Asia. Will U.S law firms be part of that move?  Or will they continue to assume that the U.S. is the center around which the rest of world business revolves. The article concludes:

New York University law professor Jerome Cohen, a leading scholar on the Chinese legal system, said that despite the restrictions, he expects the deal to spur other Western firms to seek Chinese partners. “It’s going to be a scramble,” he said

In my recent Practicing Theory: Legal Education for the Twenty-First Century I noted:

Global competition is relevant not only to the legal market within the United States but also to U.S. law firms seeking to enter foreign markets. U.S. law firms used to have the significant advantage of exporting clearly superior American legal technology. This enabled them to easily enter foreign markets at low cost with their own U.S.-trained lawyers. However, foreign law firms more recently have been able to enter non-U.S. markets with lawyers who can combine U.S. LLMs and local knowledge. Also, countries such as Japan and Korea have increased the quality and output of their law schools, partly by incorporating knowledge from the United States. Thus, the United States’ export of its legal infrastructure, though profitable in the short-term, ultimately may contribute to the long-term erosion of its global competitive advantage.

I concluded that U.S. legal educators needed to prepare for these developments.  Yet subjects like comparative law are still small niches in the curriculum.

Larry Ribstein


Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

One response to The global threat to U.S. law


    LPO’s, primarily but not exclusively based in India, originally entered the U.S. market on the rubric that they would handle document reviews. They have since moved in to virtually every substantive area of practice, save making court appearances or signing formal opinion letters. In fact, in various recent global LPO conferences, these LPO’s uniformly stated that they no longer preferred to call themselves LPO’s; rather they were simply alternative providers of llegal services. I suspect that in short order, these LPO’s may well consider opening U.S. branches, populated by lawyers admitted to practice here and break through this last bastion, making court appearances and signing opinion letters. For more, see