Anticipating the needs of clients is even trickier during a global pandemic. Each of the 10 legal practitioners featured here has been selected for their ability to help clients cope in rapidly changing political and economic circumstances.
Some are moving into new practice areas, or grappling with ethical questions about commercial space exploration or the environmental impact of clients’ business conduct. In the UK, as Brexit wrangling continues, others are advising clients on complex solutions for businesses that must adapt to departure from the EU.
All are working with professional services colleagues such as project managers, data scientists, blockchain experts and forensic accountants to offer more than just legal advice. Some have spun off separate business units or teams to design technology products and digital services.
These 10 practitioners are constantly examining how they can improve the way they deliver legal advice. As one, James Anderson, puts it: “Law firm partners need to be a blog not a book — capable of regular editing, adjustment and upgrading as the facts and outcomes evolve.”
As head of the tax department at the Spanish firm, Mr Abad has developed a strong reputation through working for some of the biggest financial institutions in Spain.
Since last year he also leads Agiliz@, a team of lawyers, developers and IT specialists who develop systems to increase efficiency at the firm. They have developed tools that include the use of robotics to create and store documentation for the corporate secretarial team.
Before taking on the official leadership role of this team, he was already championing technological efficiencies at the firm, developing a tool in 2018 that automates letters of engagement for clients.
Mr Abad started his career in accounting at Arthur Andersen before joining Garrigues 25 years ago. He now sits on the firm’s management committee.
Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Tax lawyer James Anderson advises on legal models that should apply to space. He argues for a globally agreed legal framework for space based on communis omnium, the idea that space should belong to everyone, to avoid states, private companies or individuals exploiting extraterrestrial resources for their own narrow gain without restraint.
He shares his views on the subject through seminars and chaired a session on space taxation at the International Fiscal Association’s annual congress in London last year.
As private companies begin to target space alongside governments and states, Mr Anderson believes the firm’s strategic move into space law is anticipating future client demand in this area.
He also advises clients on the wider ramifications of tax jurisdictions and political and geopolitical risks.
Partner, Paul Hastings
Ms Balasubramanian has been busy since joining the firm from DLA Piper in 2018 as head of its London private equity team. In that time she has helped to increase the practice’s revenue by 275 per cent to more than £100m in the last financial year.
Soon after arriving at the firm, she led a team representing private equity firm Abry in its $416m takeover of Norwegian mobile provider Link Mobility. This was the first purchase of a publicly-quoted Norwegian mobile communications company by a US private equity company and required delicate negotiation.
In 2019 Ms Balasubramanian advised on Oakley Capital’s simultaneous acquisitions of Seagull and Videotel, leading e-learning companies in the maritime industry. These deals required project management techniques to ensure that both progressed at the same pace, as they would succeed only if completed in tandem.
Lorraine Carolan joined DWF in 2015 following its merger with London-based law firm Watmores to further strengthen its insurance practice.
Since then, as the firm’s national head of counter fraud, she has established multidisciplinary teams and developed products to help clients combat crime.
Ms Carolan was also involved in creating a team skilled in identifying false claims and then deploying strategies to counter fraudsters.
The team collaborates with insurers, police and the ministry of justice to spread awareness of fraud hotspots and lobbies the government for regulatory change.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, she has played a leading role in bringing together claims managers and forensic accountants to offer insurers a single service to review policy coverage and manage business interruption claims.
Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
After making partner in 2018, Deba Das has already had an impact on the tangle of legal complexity surrounding the UK’s departure from the EU.
Within months, he led a small team representing Eurotunnel in a case brought against the Department for Transport challenging procurement of ferry capacity in the event of Brexit. They eventually reached a £33m settlement for the client but the case also pushed the government towards greater accountability for following due process through times of crisis.
Other work includes: acting for JPMorgan Chase in its live appeal to the EU General Court over a €337m fine imposed in 2016 for participating in a cartel concerning the pricing of interest rate derivatives denominated in euros; and advising BT in several competition and regulatory matters.
Deputy chief executive, Hogan Lovells
Michael Davison seeks to use data as a predictive tool to improve the firm’s performance and shape its strategy.
Two years ago, he launched an initiative to analyse feedback from clients across all Hogan Lovells offices and practice areas to help identify ways in which it could improve customer service.
The project also aims to help Hogan Lovells anticipate which practice groups will be most active in periods of economic downturn. His next project involves working with the firm’s pricing team on using data to better predict client billing.
To tackle a shortage of artificial intelligence and data specialists in the workforce, Mr Davison has worked with the University of Liverpool on a new scholarship programme for postgraduate courses that teach these skills.
He has also led a number of pro bono initiatives at the firm.
Partner, Pinsent Masons
Since becoming partner in 2015, Clare Francis has developed a reputation for combining commercial law expertise with strategic business advice.
As chair of the firm’s Brexit and coronavirus task forces, she has continued to adapt some of the solutions developed by the firm for clients facing the risks of no-deal Brexit and Covid-19 planning. Ms Francis advises clients on employment issues, supply chain disruption, restructuring and changes in regulatory frameworks.
The pandemic has “demonstrated how quickly we can adapt and change when confronted with challenging circumstances”, she says.
Ms Francis led a team that advised NEC Birmingham on adapting the exhibition centre into a coronavirus “Nightingale” hospital. She also advised aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce on its contractual arrangements with customers, developing a heat map to identify where the company’s revenue was most at risk.
Harm Kerstholt became interested in the field of corporate social responsibility while heading NautaDutilh’s corporate practice in New York from 2016 to 2019. On returning to Rotterdam, he launched the firm’s “soft law” practice to advise clients on environmental, social and corporate governance practices that are not legally binding but help companies manage risks and protect their reputations.
Mr Kerstholt encourages voluntary adoption of responsible business conduct among clients, urging those in the energy and natural resources sectors in particular to scrutinise their supply chains.
For example, when advising on a tender for a wind farm project in the Netherlands, he raised supply-chain concerns about human rights abuses in South Africa linked to mining for manganese used in turbine production. The client credits this approach for winning the bid to operate the concession.
Partner, PwC Tax and Legal Services Spain
Patricia Manca helped to establish the Spanish advisory firm’s new business unit, NewLaw, in 2019.
As the head of NewLaw’s legal management services division, she advises clients on digital transformation, adopting new technology, and strategy.
Recently she has worked with clients on developing digital products including a litigation management app and a tool to help more than 90 clients navigate regulations relating to Covid-19.
As manager of PwC’s Global Outlook Entertainment and Media publication, Global Entertainment & Media Outlook, Ms Manca helps to keep clients up to date on consumer and advertising trends.
Global co-head of innovation Christian Storck uses expertise in blockchain and artificial intelligence in the firm’s capital markets practice.
He advised Main Incubator, a research and development subsidiary unit of Commerzbank, on developing a blockchain-based payment system for Daimler electric trucks and charging stations. Through tokenising euros on blockchain, charging and subsequent payments are automated without the need for human interaction, allowing the bank to increase the efficiency of its supply chain.
Within the firm, Mr Storck believes in rethinking every task to find a way to improve efficiency. In 2019 he helped set up The Ideas Pathway, a platform for Linklaters employees across the globe to share ideas about tech, people and process.
Profiles compiled by RSG Consulting researchers and FT editors
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