The First American Law Firm In London Continues To Show The Way

Thursday, January 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Can you describe the investment climate in the
UK?

Poster:
The UK attracts more investment than any other
country in Europe, and in the world it is second only to the U.S. While
membership of the European Union has recently entangled us in some unfamiliar
red tape, we think this is a temporary problem, as it will quickly become the
norm for doing business in the UK.

The U.K. is a good place to invest.
For U.S.-based clients, a common language is a big plus, and for that reason
many choose to launch first in UK and then in the rest of Europe - that is, the
UK permits the client to test the market and then provides an ease of access to
Europe that is simply not available from across the Atlantic.

Our
government is anxious to keep up the flow of direct foreign investment, and, at
the same time, help British concerns compete effectively in the global
marketplace. Utility costs in Britain are the lowest in the EU, and the main
corporate income tax is the lowest of any major industrialized country in the
world. Personal income tax, employer and employee social security tax and VAT
are among the least onerous in the developed world. Manufacturing costs are low,
notwithstanding high employment costs. With respect to employment law, while the
UK has been forced to become more employee-friendly in keeping with the
principles of the EU, the costs associated with downsizing are significantly
lower than a number of our European competitors.

Editor: What
kinds of businesses and foreign enterprises are setting up in the UK these
days?

Poster:
We have seen a huge influx of telecommunications
enterprises since that industry was deregulated in the 1990s. There are a
considerable number of software companies arriving as well. We have the lowest
interest rates in 40 years, and that is fueling a consumer boom in real estate
and in consumer goods.

Editor: Would you tell us about the UK's
integration into the European Union and the Euro Zone? How far along is this
process?

Poster:
The UK is a full member of the European Union,
but we have deferred membership in the European monetary union. The Euro's loss
of value as against the dollar in the early days of its introduction made us
appear prescient, but its recent rise in value has changed the initial
perception.
There is some concern that the UK, as a major industrial country
in Europe, is being marginalized by not being involved in the setting of fiscal
policy although there is also a significant amount of national feeling in
keeping sterling and the Queen's head on our currency! In time I think we will
join the Euro Zone, but that is going to require a number of steps: the
Government must certify that the currency has passed a number economic tests;
then it must recommend action to Parliament; and finally, and assuming a
favorable vote in Parliament, the present Government has stated that the people
of this country would be required to approve the move by a nation-wide
referendum. It should be noted that the referendum held a couple of months back
in Sweden on this issue failed. All of this is going to take considerable time.


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

Poster:
I do not think so. Domestic markets have
become saturated, and globalization is the only way to reach new markets. The
very strongest corporations recognize this. Nike, the American sports equipment
giant, sponsors the Brazilian national soccer team, the English national rugby
team and a host of others. That is globalization. By the same token, countries
like China and India, with a well-educated and inexpensive workforce, are going
to participate in the global economy in ways that will challenge labor unions
all across the Western world. That too is globalization.

Editor:
What about the future? Where do you think the Coudert Brothers office in London
will be in 10 years?

Poster:
Coudert Brothers is a truly
international law firm. Over the next 10 years we will continue to adapt to the
dictates of international business and the practical needs of our clients. I
believe London is only going to improve its position as the most attractive
point of entry for European-bound investment. We will participate in that
development, and we will continue to provide the highest quality of service to a
growing group of international clients.

Editor: How large is the
office?

Poster:
We have about 40 lawyers, 10 of whom are
partners. One of the partners is qualified in New York, the balance
English-qualified.

Editor: In what kinds of work is the office
engaged?

Poster:
Our principal practice is corporate, advising a
variety of international clients on their investments in the UK, on outward
investments from the UK and on cross-border transactions. One of our principal
clients is a state monopoly of one of the Nordic countries that is heavily
involved on the telecom side in Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia,
where we have recently been active on a number of high value and complex
transactions. We have a strong real estate practice as well, which is unusual
for an American-based firm, and we represent the largest shopping center owner
and manager in the country. We are also engaged in considerable litigation and
cross-border arbitration work.

Editor: You have described a
practice that is both domestic and global. Who are Coudert's competitors in
London?

Poster:
That is difficult to say because we find
ourselves on the other side of the table of a great variety of law firms. The
closest analogy to Coudert here would probably be White & Case because of
its geographical reach, although we also see ourselves in competition with the
major UK firms in the larger arena - for example, I have just completed a ¤400
million cross-border transaction on behalf of the equity investor where Lovells
represented the banks and SJ Berwin the seller. In more specialized areas the
competition varies: in real estate, we often find ourselves against the likes of
Berwin Leighton Paisner and Nabarro Nathanson; on the corporate side, a whole
range of American, international and UK-based firms.

Editor: In
recent years the single-branded global firm, incorporating a variety of local
firms, has emerged: Clifford Chance is an example. An alternative development is
the firm alliance, where two or more firms do not merge but retain their
separate identities while working together, engaging in joint staffing on client
projects: Herbert Smith is an example. What is Coudert's strategy along these
lines?

Poster:
As one of the world's first international law
firms, Coudert Brothers has retained its sense of identity. In recent years we
have expanded with a number of mergers whilst remaining a single-branded global
firm. We have a single global brand, which draws upon a history extending back
150 years, and we aim to provide the same quality of service in every
jurisdiction in which we are located.

We are very careful in going about
selecting the firms to be considered for incorporation into Coudert, and, given
our long history of working in the international arena, we have considerable
experience in making the right choices and avoiding the wrong ones. In my
opinion, a truly global firm must have its own branding and quality criteria,
its own identity and reputation, and that is where Coudert has its greatest
strength.

My belief is that many clients, especially the large U.S.-based
clients, desire to have a relationship based on confidence and trust with one
law firm. That assumes that the firm is capable of providing the same high
standard of service across the globe and that the firm accepts responsibility
for that standard. Coudert Brothers accepts both
assumptions.

Editor: There have been changes recently in the
relationship between barristers and solicitors. Does this represent movement
toward the unification of the professions?

Poster:
Barristers,
whose principal work traditionally was advocacy, no longer have the exclusive
rights of audience to the higher courts in this country. Under the old rule, if
a client was to appear in a higher court it had to be represented by a barrister
even though its solicitor was competent to conduct the case. This was an area of
great controversy between the professions.

Since the abolition of the
rule, solicitors can obtain certification to appear before the higher courts.
Cutting the other way, clients were not permitted to deal directly with
barristers in the past. They were required to approach barristers only through
solicitors, who provided the barrister with his or her instructions. Today many
professional bodies, most importantly accountants, have the right to deal with
barristers directly.
An increasing number of law firms have brought
barristers into their ranks. In time, this may lead to unification of the
professions, although an independent Bar provides a valuable pool of expertise
which all but the largest firms find it useful to draw upon. The particular
expertise of barristers is in oral advocacy, which, like all areas of expertise,
requires constant practice, and this is an area which solicitors on the whole
have been reluctant to master.

Editor: Can you tell us something
of your background and experience?

Poster:
I am a London-born
solicitor, educated and trained in the UK In 1993 I was a mid-level corporate
associate at a major London firm. At the time, Coudert Brothers was the only
international firm practicing in London, and the attraction of a diet of
cross-border corporate work was exactly what I was seeking.
The evolution of
Coudert's London office is very interesting. In 1960 Coudert set up in London as
the first American firm in the UK, but its practice was confined to American
law, and it was staffed principally by New York attorneys. In 1990 there was a
change in the law here which permitted, for the first time, English solicitors
to go into partnership with lawyers from other jurisdictions. Coudert was the
first firm to take advantage of the new law and hired a senior partner, Steven
Beharrell, from Denton Hall Burgin & Warrens as it then was known. Coudert
wanted to add to its portfolio by offering to practice English law for an
international clientele, and bringing in Steven and others was a huge step in
that direction.

I joined Coudert in September 1993 at the age of 28,
primarily for the opportunity to do international work for international
clients. I was made Partner in 1997, and in 2001 became Managing Partner of the
London Office. Personally I thrive on the challenges of practicing international
corporate law within a large multinational firm, and look forward to further
expanding our practice in the UK and
beyond.