Most, but not all, law firms in the North East are geared up for the introduction of the euro, writes Rebecca Towers.
Mixed is probably the best way to describe the reaction of north-eastern firms to the European single currency. And while the first stages of monetary union – due to come into effect on 1 January next year – will not affect smaller practices in the short term, the majority of the big players in the region are making a concerted effort to prepare for the euro.
“The North East has always been a window for export and import,” says David Keating, former chairman of the Law Society's International Committee. The strong Japanese presence in the North East and trading links with Scandinavia and Germany mean local firms will have to be up to speed on the euro, he adds.
But the region's smaller firms believe their need to prepare is less pressing. Alan Theakston, operations manager at nine-partner Stockton-on-Tees firm Archers, says: “In view of the mainly local nature of Archers' business, the introduction of the euro has not been given substantial attention.”
Not every firm takes that view. Addressing what it felt was a lack of concern about the euro, Hull practice Rollit Farrell & Bladon set up a team to help clients – many of whom are involved in import business with foreign suppliers – to deal with the currency's issues. The move emphasises the need for care regarding sterling's fluctuating exchange rate against the euro. “We've got to consider the terms of our business with our clients,” says managing partner Steven Trynka. “For example, we may receive payment on behalf of the client which needs to be protected.” He adds that some clients were slow to recognise the euro issue. But when the firm held a euro seminar, the response was huge – its workshop wooed over 80 delegates of clients and business contacts.
Gosschalks, a 28-partner practice based in Hull, is “taking the issue of the euro very seriously indeed”, according to Bruce Raper, a partner in the commercial department. “We are madly attending seminars held by banking and professional bodies and will be disseminating that knowledge throughout the firm.”
Other north-eastern firms are alerting clients to the potential impact of the euro. Julie Harrison, head of banking at Newcastle's Ward Hadaway, says its lawyers are raising the euro issue with banking clients, particularly on long loan agreements. “It surprised me how day-to-day documentation on loan facilities doesn't refer to the euro at all,” she says.
Neil Warren, head of the business support unit at Dickinson Dees, has similar experiences. “We expected clients to be more excited but they're laid back about it,” he says. “On the commercial side most clients accept they will have to quote for the euro and any other currency that is necessary.” And to help less prepared clients, the Newcastle firm has trained up staff to give lectures and workshops.
Jacksons, of Stockton-on-Tees and Newcastle, has recognised that the euro's impact will extend beyond legal transactions. In conjunction with Lloyds Bank and Durham University Business School, it has produced a checklist to help its clients assess needs in preparing for the euro. It also provides Web site information to help with euro accounting. “We see ourselves providing a link so people can find it easier to get the information,” says assistant solicitor Claire Stewart.
Stewart believes that firms should also look ahead to the phases of monetary union after 2002. But most firms already seem prepared for one of the most important aspects of the new currency. “By January 1999 we will be ready to accept euros if clients wish to pay by them,” says Stewart.