Managing partner: Duncan Smith
Total number of lawyers: 13
Total number of partners: Two
Main practice areas: Corporate, investment funds, structured finance
Number of offices: Three
Locations: British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, Uruguay
Duncan Smith has barely had time to pause for breath since he set up WSmiths five years ago. In that short space of time the firm has grown from a one-man outfit to a firm with 13 lawyers. It now has three offices in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Hong Kong and Uruguay and a turnover in excess of $5m (£2.64m).
Smith got the idea for setting up his own firm when he was working for Harneys in the BVI. He was frustrated by the approach established firms took to their work. “It was self-evident that there was an enormous gap in the market for a firm with commercially-minded lawyers recruited from the bigger firms in the UK and the US,” says Smith.
Smith left and started up Walker Smiths by himself. However, the arrival of a Cayman Island rival prompted a rethink on the name. “Walkers opened in the BVI and I thought the names were a bit too close, so I changed it to WSmiths,” explains Smith.
Soon after the doors opened he was joined by former colleague and head of litigation at Harneys Michael Fay. Another high-profile hire was Martin Litwak from Argentine firm Abeledo Gottheil Abogados, who now heads WSmiths’ Latin American practice.
International expansion has been one of the key ingredients in WSmiths’ growth. In 2005 Smith moved to Hong Kong to launch a new office there. The city is an important centre for offshore investments, but that was not the only reason Smith wanted to open there.
“It was partly defensive,” he says. “When the US economy went down we knew we needed another source of revenue.”
He also thought that the Cayman and Bermudian firms in Hong Kong that also practised BVI law were not giving the best service.
As first reported by The Lawyer (5 June), the firm also opened an office in the unlikely location of Montevideo, Uruguay.
“Uruguay is like the Switzerland of South America. It has a straightforward tax regime,” says Smith.
London has not featured in the firm’s plans so far because Smith believes the firm would have to build up a reputation before trying to win work from UK firms. He does not rule out an office in the UK, but says “it’s not on the radar for now”.
The task now is to build on existing successes, such as capturing an even bigger slice of funds work. In 2005 WSmiths acted on more than a third of regulated funds in the BVI.
Smith has also made efforts to make his firm environmentally friendly, but with mixed results. “We did sponsor a couple of palm trees, but they got run over,” he says.