Cannes retreat brings Herbies’ international strategy into focus

Senior partner David Gold’s strategic recommendations were well received at Herbert Smith’s recent partnership retreat, with Cannes-bound partners supportive of proposals for ongoing growth.

Despite an evening trip to Monte Carlo rounding off the event on 28 April, word from the firm suggests that no major losses were suffered on the blackjack table. But of course, it would say that.

Now back at their respective desks, the partners and various working group heads will spend the coming months discussing further what was on the agenda at the retreat, with internal considerations such as how to become a better employer also a focus.

As Gold told The Lawyer last week (30 April), the main preoccupation for the firm over the coming year is to strengthen its presence on the international stage.

India, as for many other international firms, is a major focus for Herbert Smith, with partners discussing in-depth a number of entry options outlined by group head Chris Parsons.

Herbert Smith is well known for its work on Tata’s bid for Corus and oil group Essar’s failed acquisition of Hutchison shares, and Parsons highlighted to colleagues that the firm’s India business has increased by around 500 per cent in the past three years.

The assumption is that India will open its legal market to some degree within the next 18-24 months and Herbert Smith is positioning itself in preparation.
Parsons says: “We’re not set on any one particular course of action because we have more work and research to do, but the partners are very behind our push in that area.”

As part of the push, in the weeks leading up to the partnership retreat Parsons visited India’s Bangalore International Law School to sign up two trainees and six interns.

Having made offers for all the trainee positions, Parsons says one trainee has accepted, with the other yet to respond, while six interns will join the firm in June and July with a view to them also being offered training contracts.

“Depending on how they do and what they want to do, we’ll interview them all for training contracts. They’re exceptional in terms of academic qualifications, so there’s the potential to take them all on,” says Parsons.
Although their domestic knowledge would be an obvious bonus for the firm’s India push, Parsons says there will be no obligation for these lawyers to return to India when Herbert Smith makes its entry there.

The Middle East is another area into which Herbert Smith is currently pouring resources, and Gold outlined to partners his plans for expanding into Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.

“Geographically, once we’ve established ourselves in Dubai, I think we’ll look very seriously at opening in Abu Dhabi before the end of the year,” Gold says. “We would also want to cover Saudi Arabia in some way.”

Herbert Smith has already added to its Dubai office, which opened in March, with a plan of having around 25-30 lawyers working in the office by the end of the year.

According to Gold, the Rabigh petrochemical venture in Saudi Arabia, which saw the firm advise on the development of a large refining and petrochemical complex, was a major driver behind the firm opening in Dubai.

“The opportunities for projects of that size are phenomenal,” Gold adds.
Another area Herbert Smith is looking to develop is Russia, where the firm has had a presence for eight years.

The practice there is led by US securities lawyer Allen Hanen and expansion has started with the recruitment of Russian corporate lawyer Alexei Roudiak from Salans.

“He’ll be joined this month by Russian tax lawyer Oleg Konnov and we’re also recruiting associates,” Gold says. “This will enable us to take this office from something that’s a good platform to something where we can give all-round Russian corporate advice.”

In China, where the firm has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Gold feels Herbert Smith is one of the leading practices. The intention is to expand that position, although work on developing a strategy for expansion is still ongoing.