Personal touch

Personal touch
With the lines between offshore and onshore firms becoming increasingly blurred, the special relationship between the two has become ever more important. Onshore firms are the lifeblood of their offshore counterparts and when the latter move into mainland jurisdictions it is a sensitive step, as the last thing offshore firms would want to do is offend their referrers.

Nevertheless, much has been made of Maples and Calder’s move into Dublin in January 2006. The firm’s offshore rivals would like to believe that it has walked into Dublin and upset onshore firms by snaring their work.

However, managing partner Charles Jennings insists that the firm is pressing ahead with the convergence of offshore and onshore by establishing itself as a full-service firm.

Maples and Calder continues to be a major player in the offshore world and shows no sign of losing work just because it has established in Dublin. This can only demonstrate that the relationship between onshore and offshore firms is much more personal than that of traditional business relationships.

“We want onshore lawyers to come and join us, preferably from London, because they have the contacts and relationships that we want and, frankly, that we need to survive,” admits one Jersey-based lawyer.

In addition, says Appleby global managing partner Peter Bubenzer, it is essential that onshore firms understand the nature of the offshore firm they are working with.

With that in mind, we asked three leading offshore lawyers about the importance of personal relationships with their onshore peers.

Roger Le Tissier, partner, Ogier

As the volume of corporate and transactional work grows – particularly around investment funds and structured finance – offshore firms are increasingly working with onshore firms and the credit squeeze has brought its own specialist areas of activity.

In terms of what makes for a good ­partnership with onshore law firms, those firms that have strong transaction teams create the best working relationships.

Financial transactions by their very nature tend to involve a number of different parties, including banks, investment ­managers, accountants and other lawyers. If the onshore team leading the matter is well organised and manages the transaction effectively, this will inevitably take up less chargeable time and lead to a swift ­completion of the matter. Ultimately this reduces the end costs for the client.

Good communication is another ­important element that contributes to a good offshore-onshore relationship. It is extremely helpful for an offshore firm to be kept informed about everything that is ­happening on a deal, even if it does not appear to be directly relevant to it, because it helps to plan ahead.

Some firms have a weekly dial-in meeting for all parties ­concerned, which is very ­useful as it keeps everyone in the loop and aware of any issues that could have an impact on a firm’s involvement further down the line.

Sitting alongside communication is involvement in transaction timetables in advance of any deal going ahead. In ­exceptional cases an offshore firm could get a call from an onshore firm asking it to act on the acquisition of an offshore company that is timetabled for the following day. In these cases it would be helpful if the onshore firm gets in touch as soon as it believes a deal has an offshore element. The offshore firm could then advise on the timetable from the offshore perspective and thereby help plan a realistic schedule.

Relationships with onshore law firms are shaped by the individual partners and lawyers at the firms. The vast majority of onshore lawyers realise that offshore does not mean ‘unregulated’, but understand that offshore deals are regulated, occasionally to a greater degree than onshore deals.

Peter Bubenzer, global managing partner, Appleby

In considering the selection of onshore law firms, it will hardly be a surprise that offshore firms approach this in much the same way as any client. Most would look for firms that have leading expertise and a strong reputation; a capable team with strength in depth; are interested in assisting the client and solving their commercial issues; will make the client and offshore firm feel that the business is important to them; understand the client’s business and how it works; and that will communicate well and frequently with the offshore firm and the client.

In addition to these generic points, offshore lawyers would expect onshore firms to understand their firms and the way in which they work with clients, and to ­understand that the client values the ­offshore firm’s opinion. It would also need to realise that the offshore firm will be involved in advising on the offshore elements of the deal and not treat the relationship as simply an ­introduction service.

Most of an offshore firm’s major matters are led by onshore lawyers. The specific role that an offshore firm tends to play is in advising on company law and local ­regulatory issues.

The number of occasions on which offshore counsel actually directly instruct onshore counsel is not large. However, when it occurs, the thinking is consistent with the way in which the major onshore law firms instruct offshore counsel themselves.

Chris Bound, managing partner, Collas Day

What makes for good relationships between offshore and onshore firms? Since the International Monetary Fund has dropped the distinction between onshore and offshore we look past that terminology and understand that these are normal ­relationships between professionals. Relationships are built on mutual respect, ­evidence of ­performance, commitment and a dash of personal friendship. Offshore ­jurisdictions – and their lawyers – have made great strides in demonstrating that they operate to high standards and provide the quality of service required by the most challenging situations and clients. Recruitment policies and training programmes ensure that offshore firms deal with their onshore counterparts on a peer basis.

The relationship is not one of onshore/offshore. Rather, it is a ‘transjurisdictional’ relationship. On certain analysis firms rarely encounter firms. Relationships are ­invariably between individual lawyers or teams. If the experience is good the ­personal or team relationship becomes ­progressively stronger. Strengthening ­relationships with individuals and preferred firms is an ­important part of the strategy of any well-run firm to meet client needs and expectations.

Badges of relationship-building include:
• Consistency in the way in which firms work, in the kind of people they employ, in their attitude to clients, in everything that manifests quality.
• Understanding what the onshore partner is trying to achieve for the client and going all the way with them to deliver it, so adding value.
• Availability and responsiveness.
• Expertise.
• Reciprocity of introductions.
• Secondments, knowledge-sharing and joint promotional activities can all help ­create a deeper understanding and empathy than can be achieved simply by working together.

There is nothing uniquely ‘offshore’ about any of this. It reflects good – or excellent – relationship-building practice that could apply in any case. ‘Offshore’ is where a firm is, not what it is.