Our Story

Overview

Our Story

Bird & Bird’s history stretches back to the 1830s and the firm was formally established in 1846. Even back then, the firm’s excellence in client service and passion for key industries attracted leading innovators.

As technology allowed innovations and ideas to travel more quickly, the need to protect the ideas and innovations of its clients encouraged the firm to expand its international capabilities. Now, almost 180 years later, Bird & Bird has 28 offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia and clients based in 118 countries worldwide.

The origins of the firm - 1830s to 1900

Supporting innovation at the heart of the legal world

Bird & Bird can trace its origins back to the 1830's when William Frederick Wratislaw Bird came down to London from the English West Midlands to qualify as a solicitor.

After a brief partnership with William Fisher and another with James Moore, the young William Bird found himself heading up the growing Bird & Moore in the growing legal complex of Gray’s Inn, the heart of the English legal world at a time when the English legal system was beginning to undergo major reform.

William clearly thrived on the challenges of this fast paced environment as the firm focused on helping those taking advantage of Britain’s industrial expansion. It grew quickly and, in 1875, his son William Barrott Montford Bird joined the firm. For the next nine years, father and son worked together until, in 1884, the elder William retired, leaving his son in charge.

The younger William Bird was a formidable figure who built a strong clientele in two of the most important technologies of the age - coal mining and iron making – and Edmund Strode joined from 1891.

Reflecting the firm’s focus on innovative industries, in 1898 it took on its first trade mark case on behalf of The Eastman Photographic Materials Company, protecting Silo photographic paper, a move that was an early sign of the firm’s focus on protecting its clients’ intellectual property and ideas.

The passion for protecting clients’ interests helped build the reputation of the firm and William Bird became one of the leading solicitors on the London business scene, valued for his commercial acumen as well as his sharp legal skill. He was appointed to the boards of Williams Deacons Bank, now part of The Royal Bank of Scotland, and numerous iron and steel making companies that came to embody the glitteringly successful golden era of the late Victoria age. He became High Sheriff of Sussex, a member of Parliament for Chichester and, in an indication of his commitment to technology, as well as establishing one of the first electric light bulb companies – a company that is now a household name and still a client of the firm – he was awarded a knighthood for providing scholarships to enable science graduates to continue their research.

The creation of Bird & Bird - 1900 to 1950

Straightforward City lawyers for leading innovations

By the turn of the new century Bird, Moore and Strode was firmly established as one of the leading London law firms and in 1901 William’s second cousin, Ernest Edward Bird, joined the firm as a partner. Like William before him, Ernest was set to become one of London’s most highly regarded solicitors and, just four years after Ernest became a partner, Edmund Strode left the partnership. The firm was renamed Bird & Bird in the same year.

The focus on protecting the inventors of new technologies continued and in 1909 the firm conducted its first patent case on behalf of ‘Z’ Electric Manufacturing Co Ltd against Marples, Leach & Co Ltd, in a matter concerning filaments for incandescent electric bulbs. It was the same year that John Venning, who was to go on to establish one of London’s most significant patent practices, became a partner.

Foremost amongst Venning’s clients was the Dutch electrical products company Philips and, by 1930 he had become so important to the company that he was appointed one of the three managing trustees of Philips’ English Trust, helping protect its interests during the war years.

Assisting Venning was Arthur Hodges, one of London’s most talented solicitor’s clerks. Hodges, an unqualified but extremely gifted assistant, had a natural aptitude for science, technology and languages that gave him a unique insight into the challenges his clients faced. He also helped to establish Bird & Bird’s early reputation for clarity. As he said: “I used to write graphically in plain English using short words and sentences that drove the point home. [It was once remarked that it was possible to] recognise my work as it was written not in prolix incomprehensible legalese but in concise Hodgese.”

Despite the fact that in 1941 severe bombing forced the firm to move from Grays Inn, the war years did not interrupt the growing reputation of the firm and, in 1943 Ernest Bird became president of the Law Society. A year later, like William before him, Ernest was knighted but, as the war came to end, he died and six years later William also passed away, leaving the firm ‘Birdless’ for the first time in its 120 year history.

Building on the legacy - 1950 to 1990

Lawyers for the dawn of the computer age

With no children or heirs to pass on his considerable wealth to, Sir William left all his capital and goodwill in the firm to the remaining partners. However, it was the merger with Richard Furber & Son Windsor & Brown in 1954 that brought Alan Woods, the next significant player in the firm’s rich history, into the firm as a partner.

Woods was to become senior partner and his focus on the newly emerging computer industry helped put the firm at the forefront of a revolution that was to shape numerous sectors. In 1973 he co-founded the Society for Computers and Law, becoming its first paying member.

As well as becoming the leading firm for the growing computer sector, the focus on new technology enabled Bird & Bird to gain its first telecoms client in 1984, placing it at the forefront of legal developments in an industry that was being rapidly liberalised.

Five years later, in 1989, Bird & Bird conducted the first Judicial Review of OFTEL, the UK telecoms regulator, helping to cement its reputation for navigating the leading edge of regulatory frameworks. It was this reputation, along with the depth of its understanding of key industry sectors, that provided the foundation for the next stage in the firm's development.

Focusing on clients – 1990 to 2000

Establishing a sector based approach

By 1990 every Bird & Bird lawyer had a PC on their desk, making it one of the first firms to embrace the growing use of new technology in business. Three years after this, in 1993, David Kerr, who had helped establish the firm’s strong relationship with BT and was one of the most experienced communications lawyers in the UK, was appointed CEO and began to develop a new strategic vision.

David continued to drive the firm’s focus on innovation. In 1995, Bird & Bird become one of the first UK law firms to establish its own website – www.twobirds.com. It also began to increasingly work internationally and opened offices in both Brussels and Hong Kong.

While overseeing these innovations and the international expansion, David and the management team were shaping the firm to support its major clients with high value intangible assets to protect, as well as those facing complex regulatory challenges.

In 1998, this approach was formalised when Bird & Bird become one of the first law firms to organise itself around key sectors, enabling it to more effectively share its understanding of the commercial challenges its clients faced.

This sector focus helped attract more of the world's most innovative and technologically advanced companies, each of which depend on cutting-edge legal advice to meet their business objectives, and the firm’s rapid growth continued.

International growth – 2000 to present

Rapid expansion around the world

As the new millennium dawned, the blue-chip client base and the global increase in cross-border trade meant clients looked to Bird & Bird to support their international expansion. The challenge for David and his team was to build the firm’s global capabilities in a way that built on its rich history and did not undermine the strengths that made it different from other law firms.

The approach they adopted relied on recruiting leading individuals and small teams, rather than by merging with other law firms or establishing offices with English lawyers. The firm retained a structure – through a single profit pool – that meant that all partners shared a stake in the overall success, ensuring they were able to work effectively across borders for the benefit of clients.

This proved extremely successful. In 2000 the firm opened in France and Sweden. One year later it opened in The Netherlands and year after that it opened its first office in Germany. In 2003, the expansion continued, with a new office in Italy and a second office in Germany.

The rapid growth meant that in 2004 the number of partners at the firm reached 100 for the first time, and the expansion continued unabated with a new office in Beijing. The following year saw new offices in Madrid, Rome and Frankfurt, while 2006 saw a further opening in Lyon in France.

2008 saw the firm open a Finnish office in Helsinki through a merger with a leading Finnish firm Fennica, as well as four other offices in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia and a third office in China with the opening of an office in Shanghai. On top of this, expansion in London continued through a merger with Lane & Partners.

In 2008, the success of the strategy was recognised by The Lawyer, which named Bird & Bird its International Law Firm of the Year, and in 2009 the firm entered into a Global association with one of Singapore's leading law firms, which is now known as ATMD Bird & Bird. Two years later, a fourth German office was opened in Hamburg and another opened in Abu Dhabi.

Bird & Bird continued to expand its international reach and in May 2013, merged with Danish outfit BvHD, completing its coverage of the Nordic region – a unique offering among international firms. The same year, the firm signed an international cooperation agreement with BCCC Avocats, located in the important knowledge economy of Switzerland.  In November 2014, Bird & Bird merged with leading Australian new economy specialist law firm, Truman Hoyle, to create our first office in Australia, bringing our presence in the Asia Pacific region to 5 offices, with another 5 formal co-operation agreements in place in Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Korea.

Bird & Bird has also continued to be honoured by awards, garnering recognition from the British Legal Awards, The Lawyer Awards, Legal Business Awards, Managing Partners' Forum Awards, Europe Women in Business Law Awards, ILO Client Choice Awards and others.

The firm today

A successful international law firm with a rich history

There have been many changes for Bird & Bird over its 160-year history, but one thing remains; the culture and identity of Bird & Bird. We are proud to be a firm that produces high-quality, free-thinking, innovative advice and ideas, with lawyers who don't sit on the fence and aren't afraid to speak their minds.

We now practice 18 areas of law in more than 16 industries, in 19 countries, and our collaborative international network means our clients know they'll receive the best advice, wherever it is needed.

Our clients are based across 118 countries worldwide and 75% of our major clients work with more than one of our offices, demonstrating our ability to work seamlessly across jurisdictions.

Our support for the individual means our people enjoy long careers with us, passing down our deep legal knowledge, international reach and excellence in client service from one generation to the next to ensure that the Bird & Bird story continues.

Read more

Would you like to learn more about our rich history? Read Ed Fennel's The Bird & Bird Story book (pdf).

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