There are two different reasons for networks developing in the legal profession. The first reason is internationalization which became globalization in the 1990s. Law firms simply needed international connections. The second reason is expansion of a number of large United States firms to become “national”. Smaller firms or firms with a niche practice requested expertise from these networks.
The internationalization of the legal profession began later than that of the accounting profession. Unlike accounting firms which conducted worldwide audits, law firms in each country were able to deal with national client matters. This changed in 1949, when Baker & McKenzie began to expand to non-United States markets to assist U.S. clients that were expanding overseas following WWII.
Internationalization was slow, because the legal profession was more restrictive than accounting in allowing foreign firms to enter and practice other countries. One of the requirements is that the names of the partners should be present in the name of the firm.
In the late 1980s. U.S. and English firms began establishing branches in the primary commercial centers. This new competition in local markets had the immediate effect of forcing local firms to evaluate alternative ways of providing services to their international clients.