Beijing bound

Beijing bound
In today’s Beijing Blog, Norton Rose associate Steven Towell talks about the changing landscape in the Chinese capital as the preparations for the Games gathered pace.

In today’s Beijing Blog, Norton Rose associate Steven Towell talks about the changing landscape in the Chinese capital as the preparations for the Games gathered pace.

It’s probably fair to surmise that he didn’t have Dechert‘s new office in mind when he was writing his blog. Unless, of course, he is one of the lateral hires that the US firm has lined up to staff its latest venture. See story. (Not that we’re suggesting he is, of course.)

Dechert chairman Bart Winokur almost certainly had an eye on the benefits that having the word ‘Beijing’ in a headline this week could have. He can expect a good few thousand more hits on the news of Dechert’s office launch this week than he might have had at any other time during the year.

Talking from New York, Winokur was audibly excited about the opportunities offered by globalisation. And he’s not the only one. Check Monday’s edition of The Lawyer for a juicy scoop on another firm of a very different hue that’s looking at the big picture.

Dormant grant

Painting the youth club or teaching kids to read might feel more fun and fulfilling, but there’s one kind of pro bono work for which corporate lawyers are frankly far better suited: stumping up some cold hard cash.

And if that money can be found somewhere other than the pay cheques, all the better for the firm.

So kudos to Denton Wilde Sapte for its new pro bono initiative: using dormant client accounts to fund student bursaries at Birkbeck university (see story).

No doubt partly through goading by their PR counterparts, City pro bono teams have long sought ways of helping their own underprivileged neighbours, instead of just The World’s.

As such, the firm is spinning the scheme as being centred around East-lying Birkbeck Stratford, though in reality students at Birkbeck in posh Bloomsbury are getting a look-in too.

Still, the more the merrier, and Dentons’ assistance to east Londoners isn’t really in doubt, given the firm’s existing commitments to a local legal centre and a homeless shelter.

Factor in the word ‘education’ and you have an all-round feel-good story which, before you start posting comments, has been OK-ed by the SRA so is officially guaranteed from blowing back in anyone’s face.

None of which is to suggest that this scheme is just about looking good.

But in a market in which the prospect of a salary hike to stay competitive makes managing partners break out in a sweat, any initiative that costs a firm nothing but makes it appear a benevolent organisation, not just a soulless money machine, is good HR thinking.

And much easier than a day’s painting at the youth club.

A relationship of Trust

If law firms were shops, Mills & Reeve would be Debenhams: neither upmarket nor down; dependable, respectable but not, frankly, all that exciting.

Which makes it all the more striking to see the firm on the first panel of The Carbon Trust – possibly the trendiest, most topical public body around. See story

The Trust, if you’re not aware, is the not-for-dividend company created by the government to help businesses cut their C02 emissions. Which as you’ll know, is a key part of that whole avoiding-global-meltdown-thing you’ve been hearing about.

The Trust is a newsworthy organisation, launching the Carbon Trust Standard to cut through corporate greenwash earlier this summer, and taking the wind out of David Cameron’s turbine sails last week by revealing that putting turbines on city homes creates more C02 than it saves.

Anyway, environmental and social responsibility is a cool thing to be aligned with these days – just ask Freshfields, which launched its global CSR policy in February amid great fanfare.

Which makes winning a spot at the forefront of the push for energy that doesn’t require climate change, propping up crappy regimes or launching dodgy wars something of a PR coup for Mills & Reeve.

But the irony is that just 12 major organisations have actually received the Carbon Trust Standard so far – and not one of them is a law firm.

So will Mills & Reeve be the first law firm to take the carbon crown? Will Freshfields beat them to it? Or will Linklaters grab the trophy to win CSR respect?

The race is on.

Where it’s at

If any further proof were needed that the Middle East is the place to be for firms hoping to ride out the credit crunch, more came from both Denton Wilde Sapte and Clyde & Co today.

Hot on the heels of its proposed new policy of offering partnership to senior associates willing to move to the region, Dentons is ramping up its Middle Eastern presence by sending a newly-promoted London partner to Dubai (see story).

Paul Stothard will move over from London to head the office’s international arbitration unit, and hopes to make a lateral partner hire sometime soon to add extra strength.

Meanwhile Clyde & Co has pinched a four-lawyer team from Pinsent Masons to bulk up in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (see story).

This follows other Middle East expansion from firms including Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, Washington DC-based Hogan & Hartson, New York’s Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle and Texas-based Vinson & Elkins in recent weeks alone.

But while the reasons for the push east are well known, what’s less well known is how to get past the two big stumbling blocks to major success.

The first? Saudi. As our feature earlier this month revealed, while most of the Sweet Sixteen Transatlantic firms are now going steady with local firms in Saudi Arabia – a legal requirement to open there – just two big local firms are left for internationals to woo.

And with quarterbacks like Latham, Linklaters and Skadden all still unattached, seven stone-weakling firms will struggle to get a date for the Saudi prom.

Then there’s the problem of getting your lawyers to move to the region.

Dentons is hoping that the lure of partnership will be enough to convince associates to start packing their bags. But as our feature last week revealed, lawyers are divided over whether doling out equity is the right way forward. Share your views here

Let the blog begin
11-August-2008’s Beijing 2008 blog kicks off today with a surprisingly clean post from Beijing-based legal recruiter Rob Metcalf on, er, the women’s volleyball and how to chant ‘Go Beer!’ in Mandarin.

The new blog will continue throughout the games with posts from lawyers and other legal professionals in the city on the Olympic events, the gossip, the law firms and the atmosphere – to read today’s post click here, or to send us your own Olympic blog post or picture click here.

Also new on is our breakdown of the Shearman & Sterling sexual discrimination row, which continues with new posts about strip clubs, public schools and flirting with vac schemers here.

Plus our interview with Hewlett Packard’s UK legal chief James Ormrod; new special reports on the planning bill, on Brazil and on how to deal with foreign investors in UK real estate; Partner of the Year Gideon Benaim on Max Mosley and the right to privacy and our breakdown of just why half of Australia’s lawyers have itchy feet.