Open your eyes to the benefits of a global perspective
Helen Hamilton Shaw presents how international connections can support client retention while boosting your profile and attracting staff
International collaboration is a mindset: one that can support and protect your existing client relationships, while opening your mind to new cultures and ideas. Having a world view should not be restricted to major international firms. Yet some may argue that building an international network is irrelevant when they perceive their work as being restricted to their local community.
But neither we, nor our clients, can be reduced to that level of micro-geography in increasing interconnectivity and global reach for all things, personal and business-related. In a shrinking world, some of your clients might have an overseas holiday home or international business interests; cross-border family and child custody matters tend to crop up too. And leaving the European Union has created additional requirements for business transacting to or from the UK.
The benefits of adopting an international perspective and joining a world-wide community are evident in feedback from the firms that do so. In my role, developing services and relationships that can benefit our members, who typically range from £2m to £25m in turnover, I see first-hand the importance of LawNet’s integration with Eurojuris International, where we are the national organisation for the UK.
This automatically makes each lawyer in our network part of the worldwide 6,000-strong Eurojuris network, enabling members to make individual connections, share legal updates and experiences in their specific area of law, both virtually and at regular face to face events.
The power of such connections extends beyond the mid-size firms that make up our network and that of Eurojuris, as evidenced by the growing number of international networking organisations now on offer to lawyers and firms of all sizes.
Having a strong working relationship with colleagues overseas helps lawyers not only to retain their clients, but also to build a stronger bond from serving their wider needs. We find the value of this cited far more often than the opportunity to bring in new work.
Kathryn Paisley is a partner with Rix & Kay in Kent and Sussex, where she leads the corporate and commercial team. She was formerly with internationally operating city firm CMS Cameron McKenna, so has experience working in a global infrastructure, but sees personal connections as potentially more valuable to both client and lawyer.
“Being part of a network like Eurojuris International gives us the strength and breadth of the big city firms, without having a local presence, and means we can always add value for clients who need a lawyer overseas. Saying ‘yes, I know this lawyer personally and I will facilitate the relationship for you’ is crucial,” she said.
The knowledge sharing that comes from being part of a community with lawyers overseas can also be a valuable commodity that contributes to the client experience. Olivier Vibert, a French lawyer with Paris-based IFL-AVOCATS and currently president of the Eurojuris International network, explains: “the learning that takes place in our specialist practice groups means you get to know how things work in different legal cultures, and what may be important.
As well as reinforcing existing relationships, connectivity can also bring valuable referrals as well. As Paisley explains: “we recently helped a global entity with a major presence in the Netherlands, who needed to amend a commercial contract that was subject to English law.
“The referral came through a Eurojuris colleague, so the client didn’t have to go trawling around for a firm, or fallback on a City firm with high charging rates: instead they were introduced to someone trusted by their existing counsel in the Netherlands.”
Another significant advantage mentioned by Paisley is that, as opposed to working with a UK or US branch office, the client is represented by a local lawyer who is an authority on their local law, has the necessary connections and a thorough understanding of the local culture. Meanwhile, their trusted lawyer in the UK can serve as a middleman, minimising the client's involvement in the procedure.
Vibert endorses this view, highlighting a complex case involving a French real estate programme that was unfinished following the bankruptcy of the French management company. A French bank was suing the UK investors for the loans made to finance the project and the French tax authorities were suing them for a VAT-related issue.
He explained: “the cooperation was fluid, with the LawNet law firm managing the client relationship and centralising all information for the UK owners, so we could concentrate on the French law. The outcome was very positive for the client, with French notaries held partially liable and the bank and the tax authorities accepting to reduce their claims, so reducing overall losses.”
The project management approach is one Paisley endorsed. “We've got an automotive company at present, who are looking to do a lot of interesting stuff in the UK and into Europe. We’re project managing, pulling together the various elements needed, including Dutch counsel and specialist counsel in the UK. Making this all happen for the client, without them having to run around, is of huge value to them.”
When there is a decision on jurisdiction to be made on cross-border matters, the benefits of constructive cooperation also play out. Vibert highlights a commercial law dispute between a French client and a UK supplier: “we needed to determine whether French law or English law was applicable to the contract and because we have mutual aims, it avoids potential conflict between law firms over who has the client relationship. For the client, their experience was that we worked as a team, and only in their interest.”
And the personal connections can be particularly valuable, even where there are no strict cross-border requirements, as Paisley explains: “I do a lot of M&A activity, and when there is an international element to the client's work, I can easily send out discrete pieces of that transaction and ask someone with local expertise to give their input. For example, ask for a quick review of local contracts to let us know if there are any issues that might feed into the due diligence process.”
Boosting profile and standing
The benefits are not confined to workflow, as shared experiences and learning opportunities can help guide approaches to business management and boost a firm in unexpected ways.
For director Claire Charman, the value for her firm SJP Law in Hull has included raised profile and a valuable proposition to attract staff, as she explains: “I have hosted a couple of visits for Eurojuris lawyers, one from Ukraine and another from Belgium. They experienced our local culture, cuisine and people, as well as meeting solicitors and operational staff in our firm, and making visits to the local courts and to local business networking groups.
“The feedback from the visiting lawyers was great, but the PR for potential recruits and clients that we have a contact network that extends beyond our shores was very well received. For a small firm like SJP, being part of an international network means we can give opportunities for staff to develop without having to be a huge firm with branch offices around the world.”
Sophie Hearle of Ashtons Legal is an active member of Jurismus, the under-40s section of the international Eurojuris network, recently serving as its president and she adds: “for the law firms, investing in their young lawyers by encouraging them to take part in international networking is to play the long game. It exposes them to innovative ideas and helps them prepare for future management and leadership.”
As with any form of networking, the more you put in, the more you get out: what is crucially important is forging long-lasting associations based on mutual trust.
In this global world, there’s no doubting the value of cultivating international connections. There are networks for all sizes and styles of legal interaction, so find your tribe – it will be out there.
Helen Hamilton-Shaw is Member Engagement and Strategy Director at LawNet lawnet.co.uk