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“I have been hugely impressed by Melissa. She has a wealth of experience and contacts and this, together with her proactive approach, enables her to achieve first class results.” Jonathan Hand, Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

Tommy Hill British Superbike Champion opens the offices of Fletchers, leading bike injury solicitors firm
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

As you may have read in my previous blog, last week I was in New York attending the ABA Spring Meeting 2014 taking part in a session called ‘The New Normal.’ This was designed to look at the ways in which the legal industry all over the world has been responding to recent change, as well as to the ongoing evolution of legal services. It was a panel discussion attended by a number of leaders in the legal field and I was there to represent both the UK and the reputation and brand issues facing law firms all over the globe.

Each attendee was assigned several specific areas on which to contribute and I was focused firstly on how client demands might be leading to firms becoming more agile organisations overall. The financial crisis has certainly ensured that nothing will ever be the same again in the legal market and the entire sector has changed dramatically since 2008. There are now pressures on in-house counsel to demonstrate they are ensuring value for money and the foundation of billing has changed – clients now expect firms to distinguish between high value work and routine, commoditised work, both with respect to fees and priorities. Social media was an area that I also raised as part of this discussion and the importance of this was demonstrated by Nina Barakzai, in-house counsel from BSkyB, who indicated that at the Legal Week conference recently she had looked at the social media presence of firms as an indicator of whether they were innovative and willing to change. This seemed to be a rather divisive point as several members of the audience picked up on this in the coffee break.

Firms have also had to change the way that they run themselves in response to the need for a legal advisor to now not only be a business savvy, legal expert but also a trusted advisor. This has resulted in changes to allocating work, charging, offshoring and outsourcing, hiring professional business service managers – rather than leaving management to lawyers – client liaison and relationship management.

Another area that I spoke about was those firms in mature markets winning more in growth jurisdictions. The BRIC markets have been targets for a while and there is a lot to learn from this when looking at MINT markets, as there a number of common aspects. For example, it is essential to establish presence and reputation locally so as to compete amongst the indigenous firms – being a ‘branch’ of an HQ firm just doesn’t cut it anymore. Cultural differences are key to the entire process and must be studied and understood, which requires good local hires. I told the audience that we found this in our research when compiling interviews for our White Paper entitled “Untapped Potential – UK Legal Services & Latin America” – which poses the question that while UK plc. has woken up to these opportunities, could UK LLP be doing more? And can it do more in such a way as to assist businesses in Latin American countries to fulfil their economic promise more quickly?

Then there’s the issue of international reputation – demonstrating that this can be useful and adapted on a local level is important so as to make it useful and relevant to local clients. Part of this is appreciating that countries do things differently – for example, some countries don’t bill by the hour so how does an international firm that uses this process avoid being seen as an expensive option?
The legal world needs to adapt in order to keep pace with modern business – the globalisation of trade has reached a stage where legal advice coverage cannot be provided through mergers and office set-ups by large international firms. This is driving a move away from an ‘infrastructure’ approach, to one of collaboration or association. It is worth noting that there is potentially a ‘levelling’ effect here – removing the advantage very large firms enjoy over smaller commercially focused law firms. However, to close the gap, small and mid-size firms need to focus hard on networking, business development, and building business relations with other law firms based on trust. Equally, large firms, to stay ahead, need to develop those same skills, and compete for key contacts in a way that some are unfamiliar with. One of the major challenges firms face with respect to client service lies in describing to the client the ‘client experience’ in this new world. Part of this is emphasising and putting greater value on, the role of lawyer as ‘trusted business adviser’ – a role more talked about than delivered currently.

All these challenges lie ahead in the not too distant future for every member of the legal services market. Whilst the requirement to evolve might be proving challenging, if the ABA Spring Meeting was anything to go by, the industry is more on the ball than many give us credit for.

For a copy of the White Paper Untapped Potential – UK Legal Services & Latin America please email us.
Visit our inbound and outbound pages for information on our international services.

Social Media and Disaster Response

April 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

Social media has been responsible for a number of far-reaching changes in modern society. We’re all aware of the way it has provided a fantastic, free marketing channel, as well as a way to communicate with a vast number of people on a totally different scale to anything that has been seen before. However, one area that is perhaps considered less is that of the effect of social media on disaster situations.

A case in point is the recent disappearance of Flight Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which has sparked mass interest in the final location of the mystery airplane from all corners of the globe. Whilst the apparently unexplained disappearance of the flight made headlines as well as trending on social media, there was another more unexpected aspect of the social media response to the disaster. This was the way that social media actually began to be used in the search attempts, with people from all over the world getting involved in trying to find out what happened to the flight and its passengers. The hashtag #MH370 has been trending almost since the plane disappeared and social media users from across the globe have been looking through satellite images to help in the search for the missing craft and posting results on Twitter.

Whilst this is probably the most recent high-profile incident like this, it isn’t the first time this has happened. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, there were a number of emergency response organisations using social media tools to coordinate their aid efforts – the Red Cross established a social engagement team to track comments about the disaster across various social media platforms and the NYC Mayor’s Office used social media to distribute information about shelters and updates on the storm.

If you think about it, turning to platforms like Twitter and Facebook in a situation such as this is entirely sensible – we are increasingly using social media platforms to locate and share information and to communicate with each other, whether strangers or friends and loved ones. Effectively, this means that the audience is already there – we are already all focused on these timelines, and in much greater numbers than those watching the TV news or listening to the radio. Social media also offers the opportunity to send out information and to get it back – data can be collected from across an enormously wide area, the entire world in fact, meaning that a much clearer picture of a situation can be obtained much earlier on in a disaster situation. Then there’s the fact that it’s free – aid response efforts don’t have to be hampered by budgetary restraints as it costs nothing to Tweet and could trigger a million responses.

Given that a smart phone is the one item that most of us are likely to have close to us pretty much 24 hours a day, many are predicting that it will overtake more traditional forms of media as a primary source for disaster-related news, sooner rather than later. In addition, as we are all becoming more and more addicted to our portable technology, it’s likely that social media will become the ‘go to’ source for communication and information across many other new areas too.

MD Communications and the ABA Spring Meeting 2014 in New York

April 1st, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

With ongoing globalisation of the legal services market, as well as some fairly sizeable upheavals in individual jurisdictions, such as England, there has been a need for many organisations to take another look at strategy, to think again about priorities, and to attempt to streamline in order to create a structure that is more agile and better able to respond to the changing legal market.

This week in New York, I’m tackling all the fundamental questions that are currently arising from this brave new legal world at the ABA Spring Meeting 2014 by taking part in a session called ‘The New Normal.’ We will be looking at issues like what new practice models and collaborative approaches have emerged. And what are the leadership skills that have been required and how have law firm leaders coped with the stresses and strains of difficult choices? The idea is to generate some spontaneous round table discussion from a panel of law firm leaders from numerous jurisdictions and sectors – and I will be there representing MD Communications and the UK.

The outcome of the session is likely to be of particular interest to those firms currently feeling the effect of recent changes and will begin by looking at the way in which service provision has altered over the past two years and how firm strategies have evolved in response. The session will look at whether there is an increasing demand for global legal services and cross cooperation that stretches across jurisdictions, as well as whether legal services have become a commoditised product with price being the principle driver when selecting a firm for many clients.

I will be contributing on the question of whether client demands have led to firms becoming more agile, as well as the kind of approach that firms in more established markets should be taking in order to win work in growth jurisdictions. Client loyalty is another topic on the agenda – whether this has changed and become more dependent on where a firm’s expertise lies and how an organisation has successfully positioned itself in the legal market. On an individual basis, the session will look at how these changes have affected law firm managers and the leadership skills they’ve had to develop, as well as questioning whether the legal profession has become a much less attractive option to young lawyers, for example when compared with going in house.

Finally, the session will look to the future – asking for recommendations to those firms in developing countries that are looking to establish themselves and develop a strong strategy and presence in the market. The question of uncertainty will also be on the agenda – how firms can cope with this, as well as the best ways to prepare for it to minimise negative impact on business.

The session is taking place on Thursday 3rd April and I will be reporting back afterwards to share the conclusions that this group of industry professionals has drawn.

Three Ways UK Firms Can Grow Their Latin American Business

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)

Laurence P Wiener photo

Laurence P Wiener, Attorney at Law, WSC international

UK law firms are among the largest and most well-regarded firms in the world. Yet, outside of a few “Magic Circle” firms, their footprint in Latin America is faint, especially when compared to the Yeti-like tracks made by their US counterparts.
US legal dominance in the region reflects a time when US investors held a significant, if not a predominant, role in inbound foreign direct investment (FDI). According to the US Department of State, Argentina (my country of residence) currently hosts 500 US companies. Nonetheless, the Argentine Government has taken several actions in recent years to dampen the investment climate and to make the business environment challenging.
This means that FDI is increasingly sourced elsewhere and the almost reflexive look toward the US for legal counsel is no longer the case. Because London, like New York, offers an excellent source of law and dispute resolution forum for international transactions, the question of whether UK firms can grow their business in Latin America is answered, I think, with a resounding “sí.”

Three Sources of Opportunities for UK firms

1. Build on Existing Expertise: UK firms should take advantage of the depth and breadth of the London legal community’s international experience and expertise. UK firms should capitalize on their connections with investors in countries—like China and India—whose participation in Latin American FDI is rapidly increasing. As many of Latin America’s economies move through the current stress cycle, the horizon of economic rebound moves nearer. Outbound investment from Latin America will also increase and UK firms should seek to cultivate new ties with banks and investors doing business in the region, emphasizing an emerging market expertise garnered for so long in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

2. Make London a Judicial Center: The uncertainties of Latin American judicial systems and their vulnerability to political will lead many to choose foreign courts. Clients are appropriately fearful of the costliness and time-consuming nature of US-style discovery. UK firms could highlight this point and contrast US discovery with England’s disclosure obligations and “proportionality” principles. London, like New York, should assure that parties can access this judicial system, even if they lack sufficient contact under a conventional jurisdictional analysis. Also, some clients may prefer England’s “loser pays” system, as well as its stricter requirements for appealing adverse judgments.

3. Build Relationships: Many observers mention that UK firms will face a challenge competing on cost, but in my view, their greatest challenge in Latin America involves relationships. Many US law firms enjoy profound relationships with Latin American colleagues, often developed while earning degrees together at US law schools or working together in US or Latin American law firms. The UK firms need to work with UK universities to entice these individuals. A difficult job market and US policy discouraging work visas for those who want to stay on after completing an LL.M. offer an excellent opportunity to attract and retain talent.

Looking Ahead
UK legal expansion in the region should follow FDI but need not be tied to UK-sourced FDI. Rather, the UK law firms should position themselves as an expert and more cost-efficient alternative to the US legal market. Representatives of the UK legal community, including academics, should build on a perceived image of the English as less pedantic and more culturally sensitive than their North American counterparts. Latin Americans rely on relationship networking. The UK legal community must minimize its cultural distance from its Latin American colleagues. The rewards will not be immediate but they will prove sustaining.

Barristers in Brazil: Bar Council strengthens ties with Brazil

March 27th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)

Frederico Singarajah
Frederico Singarajah
1 Gray’s Inn Square

At the weekend a delegation of barristers left for Brazil, in the first trade mission to the country organised exclusively by the General Council of the Bar of England and Wales.

The mission builds on a growing relationship with Brazilian lawyers and their governing body, Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB), with which the Bar Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year, which provides a framework for co-operation between the two organisations on matters of mutual interest.

Supported by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the Bar Council’s visit seeks to raise the profile of the English and Welsh Bar in Brazil and to promote barristers’ expertise as advocates and specialist legal advisers in international dispute resolution.

The visit will also provide a platform for barristers to build professional networks with lawyers in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

The mission begins in Rio with a joint event with the Rio Chapter of the OAB with the event opened by the Rt Hon Ken Clarke QC MP. The second leg will take place in São Paulo where the Bar Council’s chairman, Nicholas Lavender QC will be taking the lead.

During the mission, the barristers will be speaking at events especially organised and visiting local law firms, promoting the English Bar. The chairman and the International Committee lead on Brazil and Latin America will then travel to Brasilia to meet with the President of the Federal Counsel of the OAB and the Chief Justice of Brazil.
Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar, said: “I am delighted to lead this Bar delegation to Brazil, which will strengthen our existing connections with key Bar associations there, and create further business development opportunities for the legal profession.
“The mission will also create a better understanding of the local legal markets, through meetings with law firms and other legal organisations. We look forward to exploring further ways of working with this developing market and to the significant opportunities that this visit will bring for all parties.”
For further information you can contact the UKTI (elizabethfehnrich@uktilondon.org.uk) or email Press@BarCouncil.org.uk