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The need to remain competitive since the financial crisis has forced law firms across Europe to shift their business models and explore new ways of aligning them with the needs of cost-cutting clients. Indeed, many firms in continental Europe and Ireland have a fresh approach that rivals those of their British peers.

Spain features in this year’s FT Innovative Lawyers report as the country with the most forward-thinking law firms. Garrigues’ commitment to innovation earns it the title of most innovative law firm in continental Europe for a fourth year. The firm, which performed equally well in the business of law and legal expertise categories, has shown both expertise and a willingness to experiment.

For example, in order to achieve a favourable outcome for its client Mediapro in a dispute over football broadcasting rights, partners Antonio Rodríguez and Fernando Pantaleón had to convince the communications company to undergo voluntary bankruptcy. Such a strategy was necessary to protect the business through lower court proceedings until its case could be heard by the Supreme Court where, according to the lawyers’ assessment, it would receive a more favourable hearing. “[Mediapro] had to take our word that the Supreme Court would likely rule in its favour,” say the lawyers. “Not only did we have to be good advocates and litigators, we also needed to be psychologists to keep the clients’ confidence alive.” Their successful strategy ensured Mediapro avoided a hefty financial penalty and retained its right to broadcast matches.

Innovation in legal services is not just about good ideas but investing to translate them into value for clients. PwC Tax & Legal Services (Spain) has implemented an internal programme to stimulate its team’s thinking around helping clients. One of its criteria is that ideas must be replicable. One product to emerge has been a pricing model that helps clients manage the costs of litigation resulting from the financial crisis. About 6 per cent of the firm’s revenue now derives from this service.

Helping clients manage costs was a theme in the Spanish legal market this year. An internal online pricing tool from Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira helps partners make better fee proposals and select work that is more likely to be profitable. Using a formula developed by the firm, partners can make decisions based on objective and historical data. “It gives you a vision on where the business is going,” says Laura Canudas, marketing director.

Senior management can now easily see which practice areas are most profitable, giving firms the sort of strategic edge that is increasingly necessary given the march of the big four accounting firms into law firms’ territory.

PwC Tax and Legal Services (Spain) achieved another four rankings in this year’s FT report, all in the business of law categories, where it could combine its technological and process strength with its lawyers’ entrepreneurialism.

One of the standout innovations from PwC was its service for “high potential” companies. It created a team to provide an interface between high-growth companies and larger, established organisations. Since 2013, the new business has grown to revenues of ¤4m.

Focusing on young companies was a common theme for continental firms. In Portugal, Morais Leitão, Galvão Teles, Soares da Silva & Associados created Team Genesis, a multidisciplinary team of 13 lawyers targeting start-ups.

In Ireland, Matheson took a proactive approach to helping its asset management clients determine where to establish funds. The firm commissioned independent research, which it has used to lobby the government for legislative change to allow European investment funds into Ireland. Meanwhile, William Fry assisted in creating the first Europe-wide clearing house for exchange traded funds. And Arthur Cox combined legal with financial and strategic advice to assist CRH, the Irish building materials company, in acquisitions that pushed it into the sector’s top three globally.

In the area of social responsibility, many firms in Europe have set up foundations over the past decade that can access alternative funding sources and make projects more sustainable. Gómez-Acebo & Pombo and Uría Menéndez of Spain and Matheson of Ireland, have used their advocacy skills in a range of initiatives to uphold the rule of law, instil values and build a culture of philanthropy in their home markets.

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