Global Convergence Makes Sense: Find A Law Firm To Do It All

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - 00:00

Editor: Why should U.S. companies select a London firm for their international compliance activities?

Gray: It is not so much about the location but about what the particular firm offers. We have 32 local offices in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We can coordinate legal advice across those jurisdictions.

This is not something that we recently started doing as a firm. We have been doing it for over 15 years. We have spent time in the U.S. creating a strong U.S. corporate client base. Over the years our reach for those U.S. corporations has extended beyond the UK to Western Europe and Eastern Europe and then to the Middle East and Asia. It is more about our experience, approach and attitude rather than our geographic location.

Editor: Tell our readers about your network of foreign offices?

Gray: Each of our offices in the principal countries are substantial full service firms in their own communities. In addition to serving the needs of foreign clients, they have important clients with headquarters in the countries in which they are located. This reflects the emphasis we have placed on being able to deliver a local service on an international scale.

These local offices can not only give our clients advice on the local aspects of an international transaction drawing on the skills of all relevant practice areas, but can also handle the local due diligence tasks involved in closing the transaction. Because they are full service firms, they are able to handle any issues that arise in those places. They keep their clients informed and connected to the politics and culture of the locality.

When dealing in any jurisdiction you cannot be successful in that region unless you deal with people who are local and indigenous to it. We deliberately made sure that our local offices are staffed by people from the country who understand its culture. If you do not understand the cultural aspects of what you are trying to achieve, you can make some serious mistakes. Our local offices are not connected to any political party in the countries in which they operate. However, they make it a point to know how to navigate within the political climate so as to assist clients in legitimately achieving their desired goals.

Editor: Do your principal local offices offer the full range of practice areas required by larger corporate clients?

Gray: Yes. Our principal local offices offer a full range of services to international businesses. If you wish to serve international businesses, you need to have a full service offering under the laws of each country that can deal with local issues of compliance, the environment, white collar criminal law, intellectual property, IT, employment and all the other issues that international businesses confront in each jurisdiction.

Editor: I understand that your work for some U.S. companies involves 35 countries. I assume that you may not have a local office in some of these countries.

Gray: Where we do not have offices, we have strong relationships with the best local firms. These relationships go back sometimes for many years -- based on their track record of effectively serving the needs of our international and many U.S. clients. That means that the relationships that we have in countries where we do not have offices are tried and tested. We are not going through a learning curve with our clients in relations with those offices. We are already at the top of the learning curve.

Editor: Although your firm is based in the UK, do you need the same in-depth knowledge of U.S. law that a U.S. firm playing a similar role must have?

Gray: Yes. Law firms wherever located who play a role similar to ours must understand the laws and regulations of clients' home countries. We have ensured over the last 20 years that we have specialists in the practice areas of interest to our clients who understand the American approach and regulations. They know the differences that U.S. companies will face when going into a new country. For example, I was in the U.S. traveling with one of my partners who is an employment lawyer. He has spent the better part of the last 15 years advising American clients on issues across Europe and Asia. He could not have done that unless he understood the differences between what the Americans would find at home and what they would find abroad.

That is replicated across different disciplines. For example, Paul Smith has environmental and compliance expertise and Robin Johnson, one of our corporate lawyers, spends a great deal of time in the U.S. in order to understand the issues that American clients face and put them in context. It is difficult for other law firms to offer a comparable service because they do not have full service local offices embedded in the local business scene or have specialized lawyers who are equally conversant with both U.S. and foreign law.

Editor: The issue of communication is of concern to American clients. How do you assure that a U.S. client feels as close to your firm as it does to a U.S. firm?

Gray: The ability to communicate across continents is relatively straightforward with email, video conferencing and telephone. There is no difficultly in accessing an extranet to effect that communication. The other thing that we do is to spend time being physically present in the U.S. to develop personal relationships with clients, which is what I was doing with my partner Martin Hopkins 10 days ago, spending a week in the U.S. catching up with various clients .

Editor: What is a U.S. client looking for from the international law firm that is delivering services in a variety of jurisdictions?

Gray: The key words are consistency and transparency. We assure consistency of approach and service level by providing the same quality response regardless of the country that we are dealing with. We assure transparency by providing systems that enable our clients to understand where costs are being incurred and how they are being incurred and giving prompt answers to any questions that may arise in the course of our relationship. Another concern was adapting the compliance message to local circumstances. Clients mentioned that they had been using a U.S. firm to do FCPA training by flying in U.S. lawyers to Italy, Germany and other places. They used American expressions and did not really understand the cultural differences. We would have provided the training, using people on the ground who spoke their language and who not only understood the local culture, but were aware of the aspects of FCPA that, given their culture, would be particularly relevant to them.

Editor: Why would U.S. companies want to work with one global firm like Eversheds rather than selecting individual law firms based on references from their principal law firm?

Gray: Clients now realize that dealing with too many law firms creates impossible management problems. By reducing the number of firms you must deal with directly, you can exercise enhanced control and spend far less time managing relationships. Often the economies of scale of using one firm across a wide range of jurisdictions are significant. Focusing a corporation's international legal activities in a single firm achieves savings and increases efficiency for the same reasons that any convergence program does. The overview that results makes it possible to more effectively manage a company's global operations.

As clients come to understand that you can use one firm to look after your interests in different jurisdictions, the demand has been growing. General counsel are becoming aware that there now is an alternative to running different relationships with law firms in every European country, in addition to the Middle East and Asia.

Editor: How can a global law firm help a company comply with the myriad of laws and regulations that affect its global operations?

Gray: You have to ensure that clients will have access to specialists covering their areas of concern. Each practice area involves unique compliance issues. One of the complaints clients generally have about law firms is that they provide tons of information but none of it is actually tailored to their needs. We tailor the information provided to the client to the client's needs. What they get depends on what they may be doing. For example, if a client is undertaking a major reduction in workforce, the managers involved are kept up to date on an extranet so that at any point they can review the numbers of employees affected in each country and the steps that have been taken to comply with the laws of that country.

We also tailor the information we provide to the needs of particular groups within a company. In our Directors' Law of Europe, we provide information required by the top managers of European divisions and subsidiaries by country and in several languages. This enables general counsel advising senior management to understand what the challenges are in each country.

Editor: In today's environment, general counsel need to demonstrate to senior management that they manage their global legal activities cost effectively. How do you help?

Gray: We have been conscious for a long time both in the UK and elsewhere that it is really important that we justify to our clients what we are doing and what we need to do and what it is going to cost. We recognize that there is increasing pressure on legal departments to get more value from what they do. Eversheds is well positioned to help them do that because we enable them to enjoy the benefits of convergence and provide systems that enable them to better track and control cost.

Given today's control environment in the U.S., the legal and compliance departments are required to maintain internal control systems that track legal spend. Through the use of the Tymetrix e-billing system and an associated matter management system, we generate information that enables the law and compliance departments to manage their global activities more effectively as well as document the services rendered and the related costs. We also provide project management tools that contribute significantly to reducing the cost of both contentious and non-contentious matters through the use of RAPID in the case of our contentious work and DealTrack in relation to our non-contentious work, both of which adopt the same principles. (See box on this page)

Editor: That is probably why DuPont likes you so much.

Gray: That is one of the reasons. The reality of it is that we have always looked at ways to do things differently. We do not say to clients that we will only do things our way. We ask them how they would like us to do it. We work hard to meet our clients' requirements. That is why we were selected to become part of the DuPont Network and why they speak so highly of us. We have trained ourselves so that when new ideas are advanced, we not only adopt them but try to improve on them. We actually seize and grab them. We have seized early case assessment and moved it forward with the development of RAPID. We were identified recently by a survey in the Financial Times as being one of the top five most innovative law firms across Europe.

Editor: How does Eversheds, with so many offices, make sure that the lawyers and staff in its many offices operate in an integrated way to satisfy the needs of its clients?

Gray: We give our engagement partners an enormous amount of credit for making sure that what we deliver is seamless as far as the client is concerned. I suspect that some of our counterparts would be horrified by the fact that we do not expect many billable hours from these engagement partners because we want them to focus on looking after their clients and making sure that everything is done the way the client wants it. They need to know the people in our network of offices and local firms and be aware of the challenges that they face. They need to be sure that we are using the same systems for training people throughout our network in the use of RAPID and DealTrack so that when we come to do a job, whichever the country may be, we are tackling it in the same way with the same approach.

Editor: One of the real tests is how a firm helps a client when a compliance crisis occurs.

Gray: When dealing with compliance issues, speed is of the essence. Experience is key and an ability to deal with the legal issues and understand the ramifications of what you do is critical. It is having that experience and that knowledge across jurisdictions as opposed to just within your own jurisdiction that is important. For example, if you take product recalls, we have a partner who is in charge of heading that. He has a responsibility for making sure that he has a team around him across jurisdictions. He knows the individuals as well. When an issue hits, we respond quickly and effectively. I want to emphasize that what you need in a crisis is not just team of "international lawyers." You need an international firm that is well steeped in the laws, politics and cultures of the local jurisdictions where the challenge is faced.

Editor: What about your commitment as a firm to gender and ethnic diversity?

Gray: Obviously, not imposing Anglo-Saxons across all our offices in different jurisdictions is a diverse approach to the way we deliver international legal services. We are strong in relation to our gender diversity. Almost one in four partners are women. Four of six of our business service leaders are also women and fifty percent of our recent senior associate appointments were female. We recently launched a female lawyers' network named CARRIE. Seven percent of our legal colleagues state that they are from an ethnic minority, but this is work in progress.

We recently retained several consultants to help us benchmark ourselves against other law firms because we want to get better at what we do. That has been an interesting exercise for us. An early result of this effort was to appoint someone full time to strengthen and provide continuity to our efforts to achieve greater diversity. We put all of our 350 partners through a Harvard Program at Cambridge University tailored to our needs. This Program helped them to appreciate the firm's commitment to diversity and what they can do to help.

Editor: Tell us about the firm's pro bono and community service activities.

Gray: Eighteen months ago, we appointed a senior lawyer to coordinate our efforts across the social responsibility field. We won the pro bono law firm of the year in the UK at the LawWorks Awards. We have won some individual awards for work in the community by our people who make exceptional contributions. We do a whole range of things. We deliver around 20,000 hours of work a year to either pro bono work or to work in the community. Personally, I like to see our people getting involved in helping the less privileged. We have been involved in a host of pro bono and community welfare activities, including mentoring prisoners, reading to people, painting or decorating rehabilitation centers and improving school playgrounds in poor areas.