Solicitors sans frontiers
By Neil Lloyd
Neil Lloyd explores the benefits of embracing a worldwide view of the legal sector
Generally speaking, the cases our clients bring to us may be understood and advised on with a thorough understanding of English law. But over the past few years, we have come to realise that restricting our operations to the UK's legal framework places restrictions on the services we can provide to our clients.
While we advise on everything from property to HR, we used to stop short of being able to give counsel on matters that involve an understanding of the law of another country – for example, advising clients who were looking to expand their operations with exports or imports. We just didn’t have the knowledge inhouse.
And that knowledge base was deficient in many areas than just corporate and commercial law. We had private clients who had purchased holiday homes or real estate abroad and we needed to be informed of the various rules governing these purchases and ownerships. We also had clients who had foreign spouses and wanted to create a trust or will that would be recognised abroad.
As a firm that places a high value on providing excellent customer service, we saw that our services needed to be improved in this area and set out to create a more comprehensive offering for our clients.
The good news was that we already had the tools to build a global network at our disposal, we just hadn’t fully utilised it.
Building a global network
Through our long-standing membership of LawNet, we have been a member of Eurojuris - yet we had never been particularly active in the group. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Eurojuris is a network of member firms which includes 600 lawyers in 200 countries worldwide.
Eurojuris members provide legal advice to businesses and personal clients across a range of sectors in their native country. Each firm is independent, well-established and trusted in their community and before joining Eurojuris, they are vetted to ensure they deliver proactive and knowledgeable advice and guidance to clients.
When I joined FBC Manby Bowdler, I reassessed our membership in Eurojuris and decided that in order to get the most out of it, we needed to use it more strategically to help us establish that global vision that was missing from our portfolio and that would help expand our business. Time had to be invested by everyone at the company, but it was well worth it.
Eurojuris members meet every six months and from a networking point of view, the annual conference is a must-attend for us. We send a team of five or six colleagues to the conference – which is usually held somewhere in Europe; this year it’s Rome. Our team is rotated so several of our legal professionals get the opportunity to build their own network. Eurojuris also operates a professional and social network for lawyers under 40, which we’ve starting to encourage our younger colleagues to attend to develop their connections earlier in their career.
We do have WhatsApp groups and LinkedIn to keep in touch with our opposite numbers at member firms during the year, but there is no substitute for face-to-face time. In fact, the links we’ve built with other member firms have only got stronger the more effort we have invested in them.
Currently, we collaborate more with US and German companies, mostly for our manufacturing clients. One of the Eurojuris lawyers from Germany visited us last year and we took him with us on the LawNet Challenge (a hiking challenge in the Lake District). Later this year, I'm hoping to combine a trip to New York to run the marathon with a few days with a member firm there that we've been closely collaborating with to get to know the bigger team and really immerse myself in how they work.
I have already referred clients to Eurojuris member firms in Switzerland, Italy and France. This is the power of the network we are building. I know these lawyers; I like them and I trust them to provide the same high level of service to our clients as we would.
An advantage of having a global perspective is how it shapes our knowledge and aids in our ability to think about current and upcoming legal issues in new ways, in addition to expanding our services to clients and assisting them in accessing high-quality legal advice for jurisdictions all over the world. For instance, I attended a seminar last year on how to deal with cryptocurrency taxation, which isn't something we deal with on a daily basis but might have to in the future.
Eurojuris has a number of practice groups, which bring together lawyers who work in the same sector such as Agriculture & Renewables, International Business or Private Client. We belong to all three of these groups and it is an invaluable opportunity to share best practice and our experiences of common legal problems with colleagues from around the world.
At the last event in Madrid, our partner Tom Devey delivered a speech about the legal challenges for the renewables sector in the UK. Other lawyers from other countries then shared their experiences. While laws differ from country to country, hearing case studies about how other firms tackle similar problems can be very beneficial. Sometimes external speakers attend the working groups to give a new perspective entirely.
The lessons of these groups don't just benefit the team members who attend. When they rejoin the group, they will hold lunchtime sessions with other employees to share what they learned and deepen everyone's comprehension. We've discovered that educating colleagues about various concerns helps them spot fresh chances to expand our current client accounts and to give value in new ways.
Our membership with Eurojuris has opened the door to a whole world of opportunities to expand our knowledge and our service offer to clients. While we know that every client that walks through the door isn’t going to need to access to cross-border counsel, for the clients that do, it is invaluable to be able to offer trusted referrals and to ensure their legal affairs are well looked after when it is out of our jurisdiction.
The law may change from country to country and indeed from state to state, but we as legal professionals share a common goal to always do our best for our clients and we are united in this pledge over and above any differences in our law books. The legal industry is a global community and working closer together to improve it for everyone can only be a positive thing.
Neil Lloyd is managing director at FCB Manby Bowlder fcbmb.co.uk