UK - Law Firms A Firm That Bridges The Divide Between American And UK Corporate And Finance Law

Saturday, January 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Would you tell our readers something about your education and background?

Schiff: My undergraduate studies were at New York University, where I received a degree in finance from the NYU Stern School of Business in 1984. I received a JD from Brooklyn Law School in 1987.

Editor: How did you come to Weil Gotshal?

Schiff: When I was in college I worked for a specialist firm on the New York Stock Exchange, and from that experience I knew that I wanted to be involved in business law. Mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and private equity were of great interest to me. When I graduated. there were a handful of firms in which I was interested - firms with a strong business law orientation - and Weil Gotshal was at the top of the list. I was fortunate enough to receive an offer upon graduation from law school, and I have been with the firm ever since.

Editor: I understand that you have spent a considerable amount of time at the firm's office in Prague. How did that come about?

Schiff: Weil Gotshal was one of the very first American firms to make a commitment to Eastern Europe, with the opening of offices in Budapest and Warsaw in 1991. One of my friends was sent to help with the Budapest operation and, while there, was asked to evaluate Prague as a possible site for an office. He subsequently moved to Prague and our office there was opened in late 1992. I mentioned to him that I might have an interest in becoming part of our European operations and, soon thereafter, found myself in the office of the firm's Chairman being asked to consider a two- or three-year stint in Prague. At the time I arrived, in early 1994, the office was a four-lawyer operation, two Americans (including myself) and two Czechs. From these very modest beginnings we built one of the top practices in the Czech Republic.

Editor: What kinds of work did the Prague office handle? What types of client?

Schiff: The opening of an office in Prague completed the Eastern European picture for Weil Gotshal in 1992. During the early years, much of the work was in the transactional area. including cross-border transactional work, and, of course, there was a great deal of privatization underway which called for our attention. Privatization work was very important to our operations in Budapest and Warsaw as well. Over time, the practice matured and became considerably more diversified. Its reputation for expertise in corporate finance, securities and banking law, and for advising on capital markets transactions, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, and financings of all types, real estate, corporate recovery and restructuring, competition and trade regulation and communications and intellectual property is well deserved. Today there is a strong litigation practice as well. The clients include a substantial number of local corporations as well as multinationals.

Editor: When did you come to the London office?

Schiff: I first discussed moving to London in 2003 and arrived in January of the following year.

Editor: Would you provide us with some of the background on the London office? What were the factors that went into the decision to open an office in London?

Schiff: London is one of the world's principal financial centers. In addition, we found that many international transactions, both in the U.S. and Europe, were governed by English law. By 1995 it was clear that Weil Gotshal ought to be in that market, not only for the sake of its existing clients, but also if the firm was to have a credible European presence and be considered a truly international law firm.

Editor: How has the London office's practice evolved?

Schiff: The London office was formed on the basis of a series of strategic decisions including identifying highly-regarded English lawyers who focused on what we see as our core practice areas. We took a somewhat different approach from many of the U.S. firms with offices in London in not starting out with a staff made up almost exclusively of American lawyers. We believed that in order to establish a credible presence in London, the office ought to be staffed principally by English-qualified lawyers. That meant, in effect, that we did not have to spend years establishing a reputation in the market, but rather that we were able to hit the ground running. It has also meant that we have been able to increase our numbers at a fairly rapid pace, and today the office has approximately 130 fee earners, including 25 partners. Most of our lawyers are English-qualified, but there is a core group of U.S. attorneys as well.

The London office is engaged in a broad spectrum of activities involving both UK and U.S. corporate, securities and finance law. This includes mergers and acquisitions, private equity, acquisition finance, banking, capital markets, restructuring, securitization, litigation and international arbitration, regulatory competition, financial services, corporate governance, healthcare, real estate, taxation and technology. The office's expertise extends to a wide array of industries as well: financial services, retailing, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, technology, energy, real estate, and so on.

The office also draws upon the resources - both expertise and personnel - of the firm's other offices. Since much of its work is cross-border in nature, there is considerable experience in working within the firm's worldwide network of lawyers on complex multi-disciplinary or multi-jurisdictional issues. A coordinated approach to today's complex legal issues, we believe, is an essential ingredient in providing effective and efficient legal solutions.

Editor: What about the clients that the London office is serving?

Schiff: In line with the model we have created in Europe generally, there are a number of institutional clients, multinational corporations and private equity funds to which the office provides a variety of services, as well as a local business clientele.

Editor: Any thoughts on merger partners for an expanded London presence?

Schiff: Weil Gotshal has historically not looked upon mergers with other firms as our primary way to grow. I do not envision a merger happening here in London. At the moment, I think we are a good size and we have a very good practice.

Editor: How does the London office connect to the firm's other offices? Is there a single worldwide Weil Gotshal culture, or does each of its offices retain something of its own personality?

Schiff: The answer is a combination of both. The firm prides itself on the provision of preeminent client services, on responsiveness to client needs and on the exercise of judgment in the practice of law. These are the values that underlie our practice in every jurisdiction in which we practice. We have a one-firm culture based on these values, and we are committed to provide the very best service from each of our offices. That said, it is impossible to be practicing in as many diverse markets as we are and not have the culture of each market influence, at least to some extent, the office located there.

Editor: Would you say something about your practice?

Schiff: I am engaged in a transactional practice with a particular focus on private equity and M&A. Having spent nearly ten years in central Europe, much of my practice focuses on emerging markets.

Editor: The British, with centuries of experience in international shipping and trade, have been part of a global economy long before the term was invented. What are your thoughts about globalization? Is there any turning back at this point?

Schiff: I think that the world is becoming an increasingly smaller place. Given the connection today between commerce and technology, the natural progression toward globalization is, in fact, accelerating. For that reason alone, and irrespective of the very real benefits of globalization, there is no turning back. I think this does mean a brighter future for all of us, and it certainly means that it is important for all businesses to have a global perspective.

Editor: Speaking of the future, where do you think Weil Gotshal is going to be in London in, say, five years?

Schiff: We have come a long way since opening our doors in 1996. Just this year, among other accolades, our London office was cited as office of the year by a London-based publication called The Lawyer. It is our continuing goal to be considered among the leading UK practices in the market. We have come a long way in building up our brand, and we enjoy an established reputation in a very competitive legal environment. That said, there is no question that maintaining our status is an ongoing challenge. It is one that we welcome and, I think, one that we will meet with considerable success.

Please email the interviewee at ken.schiff@weil.com with questions about this interview.