Carnival atmosphere gives Bakers the platform to schmooze clients

Global model hammered home by arrival of Brazilian chairman. By Matt Byrne

Eduardo Leite
Eduardo Leite

The room in which The Lawyer meets Baker & Mckenzie’s new global chairman Eduardo Leite sitting alongside London head Gary Senior is dominated by a huge yellow-and-white painting of aeroplanes. The title? ­Taking off.

It might be stretching the metaphor to breaking point to say the artwork reflects the world’s largest law firm’s recent performance, particularly as Leite is in town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bakers’ presence in the City. But strategically at least the firm is airborne.

Having offices in Almaty, ­Manila and Tijuana would once have ranked as unnecessarily ­exotic and scattergun. Now every other firm worth its salt is opening in Eastern Europe, the Asia-­Pacific or Latin America.

Few decisions could have underlined Bakers’ global nature better than the appointment last year of Leite as the first Latin American chairman of any global firm.

“My appointment sends out a message about the diversity that there is at Bakers,” argued Leite. “That it’s a unique firm and that there are no limitations.”

In London, where Bakers’ ­average profit per equity partner figure hit £650,000 last year, the idea that the firm is in the ­ascendant looks particularly true.

“For many years people said we were strange for having offices all over the world,” said Senior. “Now there’s a general confirmation of our strategy and, I think, a ­recognition that we were ahead of our time.”

Last week Bakers threw a ­whopping 50th birthday bash at the City’s Guildhall for around 900 clients, partners and assorted guests.

In his keynote speech, Leite assured the assembled throng that, in the grand tradition of Latin American leaders, he “planned to speak for eight hours”.

Getting a laugh from nigh on 1,000 suits is not easy, but having managed it Leite moved on to what he hopes will be the defining theme of his four years at Bakers’ helm: client service.

Back in the office Leite ­reiterated his commitment to ­serving the people who pay his wages.

“What’s on my agenda?” he said. “Clients, number one, two and three. Being a client-centric firm is our top strategic priority.”

Talking to the easy-mannered Leite you get the impression that this is more than paying lip service to the idea of basic client ­relationship management.

His first three months as ­chairman have been spent ­touring Bakers’ network, spending time with lawyers and key clients.

Leite’s second trip to London since taking over from John ­Conroy on 1 November had two aims.

The party was one. The second was to take part in last week’s meeting of Bakers’ European Regional Council, where the ­managing partners of the firm’s Europe and Middle East offices chewed the fat and clients spent time with their legal advisers.

Bakers is not unique in inviting clients to its partner meetings, although the frequency of the get-togethers is unusually regular.

Between 15 and 18 February Bakers partners will gather in ­Singapore for the Asia-Pacific meeting, while in March there is a meeting of the western hemisphere group. In April it is the turn of the Europe and Middle East offices, while jumping forward to October it is Bakers’ global partner meeting.

At each event between 15 and 25 clients, some bringing up to a dozen representatives, spend quality time with Bakers’ partnership.

“Having clients there changes the flavour of the meetings, makes them more external,” claims Leite. “Also it’s a fabulous opportunity, as our major clients are users of many Bakers offices. To have clients there can be fruitful and a lot of effort’s put into the business agenda.”

It is nothing new to be client-centric, but the level to which Leite wants to take it is at the very least unusual. But then, so is Bakers.