K&L Gates, Mayer Brown offer crisis management” />There is nothing like a crisis to rally the troops, particularly if those troops have been forced to watch the action from afar. Just ask Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, K&L Gates and Mayer Brown, all of which have set up crisis groups to help clients and potential clients deal with the dire state of the financial markets.
While this can be seen as an opportunistic move by a group of firms that has so far failed to win any headline-grabbing roles from the financial market meltdown, in reality it could be exactly what the market needs to help avoid any further catastrophes.
Mayer Brown finance partner Dominic Griffiths, who is leading the firm’s 11-partner London-based response unit, says that, with a group of lawyers pooling their expertise before being approached by clients, the firm is better prepared to deal with queries than if it was simply responding to individual enquiries.
“We thought that quite a lot of law firms, ourselves included, had been really reactive and we wanted to go one step further and to be more proactive,” explains Griffiths.
The unit, which is made up of two partners apiece from the litigation, insolvency, finance and corporate practices, plus one each from employment, pensions and tax, has been designed as a first port of call for clients with any kind of market-related concern. And if Mayer Brown picks up a few new clients along the way, so much the better.
“What we were hearing from clients is that it’s all very well firms getting a lot of instructions – and there are a lot out there – but there aren’t many firms really, truly aligning themselves with their concerns,” says Griffiths. “We’re getting ourselves organised as best as possible to deal with things as quickly as possible. We’re getting calls from general counsel of banks who need to speak to someone urgently on derivatives.”
At Mayer Brown the expertise of the panel of partners is accessible by calling a hotline number, with the partners involved promising to return calls within 10 minutes. The line is open to anyone, so conflict rules dictate that only general advice can be given. The potential for winning new clients requiring more detailed and tailored advice is clearly high.
According to Tony Williams, a consultant with Jomati, while Mayer Brown is opportunistic to be offering such a service, in reality its group – and those set up by Akin Gump and K&L Gates – are potentially incredibly useful.
“It’s opportunistic, but so what?” he says. “These firms are showing they’ve got the experience and the understanding of financial products and how they might be classed in an insolvency.”
Williams adds that the firms are right to highlight the transatlantic nature of their response groups, given that the financial instruments at the root of the crisis have all been traded internationally.
“They’re trying to make sure they pull all that experience together and make sure it’s coordinated,” he says. “When clients come to firms, it’s often with high-value and complex issues. If firms get to know the products and issues in advance, they can hit the ground running.”
The services offered by Akin Gump and K&L Gates differ to those of Mayer Brown in that they do not feature a telephone line, but the premise is the same – to furnish clients with as much information as possible to help them weather the economic storm.
The principle is certainly a good one and, while the establishment of dedicated groups can be marketed as an altruistic move, it will stand the firms in good stead when further instructions begin to emerge.
K&L Gates chairman and global managing partner Peter Kalis has a point when he says: “This initiative has helped us meet client demands during these challenging times.”
What he does not mention is that it will almost certainly help the firm meet the demands of a longer client list in the future.
As Williams puts it: “The thing to bear in mind is that clients may not be able to use their normal advisers because of conflicts.”
In that kind of situation, who would a general counsel turn to? A firm that provides quick and coordinated responses in a moment of panic, perhaps?