Vox Pop: On course for offshore

Do offshore lawyers require different skills than their onshore counterparts? What effect has the economic downturn had on offshore firms’ recruitment? Katy Dowell finds the answers to these questions and more from those in the know

Gareth Russell, director of HR

What attributes does it take to be an offshore lawyer?
The offshore market is competitive and as such the successful firms are differentiated by the quality of the service they provide. Being good at local law is not enough and is taken as a given by the larger City firms we work with. In this respect technical ­excellence and the ability to work quickly and effectively are both vital attributes for the offshore lawyer.

Offshore lawyers tend to work on a high number of discreet matters at any one time. The ability to manage volume and cope with a wide range of issues is critical. We look for people who have the knowledge, ability and confidence to operate as a generalist, yet with the same high level of expertise as those at City firms.

How do offshore firms recruit from onshore centres?
We advertise locally and internationally. We work with locally based recruiters as well as the offshore specialists. For senior strategic hires we work with headhunters.

We also receive a high number of direct approaches. As you might expect we also invest heavily in ‘growing our own’ lawyers and have active generous scholarship ­programmes in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Cayman Islands, Jersey and Mauritius for local residents. These provide educational opportunities for young lawyers who are interested in pursuing a career in law in their home jurisdictions. We also recruit a small number of trainees into our larger offices each year.

Is recruitment expected to accelerate this year? If so, in which practice areas?
We do not anticipate that the pace of ­recruitment will accelerate this year. ­Appleby, like most law firms, is not immune to the slowdown in economic activity. Our planning this year has focused on ensuring that we have the right number of people in the right places to deal with the work ­available. In practice this has meant we have continued to recruit into our corporate practice in Bermuda to backfill positions vacated by those who have transferred to other Appleby offices – in particular our new office in Zurich. We are actively ­recruiting for our growing litigation and insolvency practice in Cayman and the BVI.Appleby plans its headcount carefully as part of an annual business planning cycle. We therefore begin the business year with a clear picture of planned recruitment throughout the group. We do anticipate some attrition throughout the year and as such we need to be flexible enough to respond to recruitment needs that emerge as well as any opportunistic hires.

Is it preferable to train staff to partner level as opposed to making lateral hires? If so, why?
Usually but not without exception. Offshore partnerships tend to be relatively small by City standards. As such the decision to invite someone to join the partnership will have a significant impact on the partnership as a whole, both financially and culturally.

Developing your own senior people means you are more likely to engender the standards and ethos of the partnership. The firm will also have more time to assess ­ability to operate at the most senior level. However, a lateral partner hire can allow the firm make a strategic addition, either in terms of jurisdictional or market expertise.

There is more risk involved with a lateral hire, but provided there is an agreed ­strategic rationale and the will to invest, then there can be significant advantages to pursuing this route, provided you hire the right lateral, of course.

Robert Calderon, global head of HR
Conyers Dill & Pearman

What attributes does it take to be an offshore lawyer?
Do not assume that life in the office will be more relaxed than in your present position; we work with and for onshore firms to a standard that allows them to meet the ­standards their clients expect.

The main difference in the office is likely to be the need to handle multiple matters at one time, which can be a big change for lawyers accustomed to working on one deal for months at a time.

It is very important to learn about life in the new jurisdiction before moving, which is why we like candidates to visit our offices as part of the recruitment process. Most of the time it is life outside the new office that requires greater adjustment. If the lawyer is flexible towards the different living ­conditions and willing to adapt, they will have an enjoyable lifestyle.

How do offshore firms recruit from onshore centres?
The firm uses a number of reputable recruitment agencies in the UK and Canada and also advertises in law magazines, journals and on relevant internet sites.
Candidates located in the UK or Europe are initially interviewed by partners and senior associates in our London office in order to expedite the recruitment process.

Is recruitment expected to accelerate this year? If so, in which practice areas?
The practice area most likely to experience recruitment activity is our corporate ­department.

Is it preferable to train staff to partner level as opposed to making lateral hires?  If so, why?
With rare exceptions, our partners are ­promoted from within the firm. Support of our firm’s culture and practice standards is very important to us, and we feel that ­maintaining this can best be achieved through the promotion from within of those who have demonstrated commitment in these areas.

Peter Tarn, development partner

What attributes does it take to be an offshore lawyer?
Whatever the background the key attributes are fundamentally the same as for any successful lawyer, but there are specific demands that may not be immediately apparent to those coming from a City environment.

Perhaps the most surprising is an ­emphasis on legal analysis rather than transaction management. Large cross-­border ­transactions create a ‘cram-down’ of legal issues and, where the onshore lawyer’s response to potentially difficult legal issues is usually (and correctly) to structure away from them, that is often not a luxury we have. You have to get used to the reality quickly that the onshore drivers for a ­particular structure are sometimes so powerful that you are going to have to grapple hard with any offshore issues and give a definitive answer on them whether alternative routes exist or not. Related to that is the imperative to be proactive when not in the prime position to drive a transaction.

How do offshore firms recruit from onshore centres?
Harneys’ recruitment policy has two ­elements, with senior lawyers being ­recruited from major financial centres and Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric) economies and a professional development programme aimed at newly qualified lawyers from Caribbean law schools.

Is it preferable to train staff to partner level as opposed to making lateral hires?  If so, why?
Our approach to the balance between ­internal promotion to partnership and ­lateral hires is pragmatic.

The advantages of developing your own people are real and obvious and we are delighted that 2009 marked the first appointment of a partner who had come all the way through our graduate programme. But our commitment to empathise with client demand for genuine diversity of ­background means we have been able to achieve having Brazilian, Chinese, Indian and European lawyers in positions of real influence via lateral hires.

Astrud Lotz, head of HR
Mourant du Feu & Jeune

What attributes does it take to be an offshore lawyer?
Many of our lawyers have experience of working in major onshore law firms or financial institutions and have a deep understanding of the commercial issues and pressures facing our clients and instructing onshore firms. Exposure to a wide client portfolio – from private ­individuals to large companies, and from multinational conglomerates to the world’s most prestigious onshore law firms – brings variety to the everyday work of our lawyers. It also means that the lawyers we recruit need to be flexible and have the ability to work across different practice areas.

Excellent communication skills are key attributes, as are strong relationship ­management capabilities. We also look for individuals who are dynamic, energetic and enthusiastic. Above all, we recruit people who are committed to building successful careers and to making a positive impact on client relationships.

How do offshore firms recruit from onshore centres?
The channels we use to recruit include the vacancies page on our website, trade press advertising, recruitment agencies and ­referrals. We do take graduate trainees who, in addition to having law degrees or ­equivalent, would often have also passed the LPC or Bar Vocational Course. We have a well-established training programme to support trainees in taking professional examinations and to enable them to work effectively within our business. As an integral part of our team graduate trainees also have the opportunity to develop strong client relationships as well as work with our legal experts.

Is recruitment expected to accelerate this year? If so, in which practice areas?
Although we are continuing to recruit [a small number of] lawyers and trainees, we do not currently expect our recruitment activity to accelerate in the next 12 months.

Edward Strickland, director of global recruitment
Maples and Calder

What attributes does it take to be an offshore lawyer?
Typically an offshore lawyer will at any one time be responsible for a considerably greater number of active matters than their onshore colleagues, albeit many will not be in a ‘lead counsel’ role. The ability to process information quickly, to prioritise and to cope well under pressure are key qualities we look for in a recruit.

Offshore lawyers frequently have much broader specialisations than onshore lawyers and a good understanding of basic corporate and common law security ­principles is essential. We look for intelligent people who are good communicators, as at every level our lawyers will have a client-­facing role.

How do offshore firms recruit from onshore centres?
Maples & Calder has an in-house head of recruitment based in London, where many of our recruits are sourced. The majority of our recruits come through direct approaches and internal referrals, although on occasion we will advertise as part of a targeted ­recruitment campaign.

We also take local trainees in our Cayman Islands, Dublin and British Virgin Island offices. At present we have 19 individuals training within the firm.
Is recruitment expected to accelerate this year? If so, in which practice areas?

We undertook significant recruitment drives in 2007 and 2008, growing our total lawyer count by 30 per cent over an 18-month period. While workflows overall are currently relatively steady, no law firm can expect to escape entirely the effects of the economic downturn. Accordingly, we do not have any active recruitment drives running at present, although we do have one or two specific slots to fill.

Is it preferable to train staff to partner level as opposed to making lateral hires?  If so, why?
Historically we have promoted from within rather than recruit partners laterally, and that is our preferred approach.
We have on rare occasions recruited at partner level, although these are the ­exceptions rather than the rule.