Founder and director, Transatlantic Law International (TALI), London.
I wanted to be a physician but my skills were verbal and analytical. After working on newspapers for a couple of years in the US where I grew up, I thought law would be more of a challenge using the same tools – and it was.
My law school, the University of California, Hastings College of Law, was practical, rigorous and also in a great town, San Francisco, with a lot of opportunities for judicial clerking and practical experiences. Starting private practice in a big firm in Boston after that was not so difficult.
In 1991 I moved to Brussels and became chief counsel for International Paper Company. Within a month I was negotiating M&A deals in Norway and the largest privatisation in Poland at that time. I later moved from IP to Tyco International in Luxembourg. As a general counsel you have to swim fast or you drown, so the learning curve was fast and fascinating.
I started Transatlantic Law International from London in 2001 with a simple idea: you don’t need a traditional law firm to cover the world but can do so through a clear structure that delivers business law services coherently with the best teams of lawyers from independent firms working in a different way – through a centrally managed service that covers more countries, faster and more cost-effectively. We now have 3,500 lawyers in affiliated firms in 80 countries, so this idea clearly resonated with the market.
In terms of managing a global legal business, what makes clients sometimes challenging is the pressures on them not us – those are always there. But you can’t succeed in global business or business law if you don’t understand why on a Friday evening someone is asking you to solve a problem in Thailand over the weekend.
The profession is now required to provide 24/7 attention to clients in a non-stop world. What is lost across all service sectors is the time to form direct personal relationships. But this has been replaced by the opportunity to have meaningful interactions with more people across multiple time zones who can become equally good friends, colleagues and clients even if you never meet.
There are too many lawyers, generally speaking, but not that many who can communicate and operate effectively across boundaries. Businesses need that cross-border capacity as well as generalist and specialist counsel. In the international area business needs a service that can serve them in as many sectors as possible – and do that with efficiency and integrity – which is what we try to do every day.