Linking firms in a shrinking world« All News

June 13, 2011

South Carolina Lawyers Weekly

The June 13th edition of South Carolina Lawyers Weekly includes an article written by Fred Horlbeck entitled "Linking firms in a shrinking world," which delves into international legal networks and the value they deliver clients.

Horlbeck begins the article with an anecdote from Wyche attorney Henry Parr about an assignment he had received to draft a distribution agreement between one of his American clients and a South Korean company. Parr was under a tight deadline and had to come up with a document that would comply with every South Korean law relevant to the parties' agreement.

Rather than engaging with another colleague in the Wyche office or at another law firm in Greenville, Parr reached out to the South Korean law firm affiliated with Wyche's international legal network, Lex Mundi, and received the guidance he needed right away.

"When I got back in the office the next morning, there it was with a memo from them, telling me the different points of South Korean law that I needed to know and what changes I had to make," Parr said. "It was just fabulous to be able to get that kind of response that quickly."

Wyche has access to these international resources, as the exclusive member firm for South Carolina for Lex Mundi, which is considered the world's leading association of independent law firms and has more than 160 law firms in over 100 countries. Wyche can ask any of the network's members worldwide for help and expect reliable, fast assistance. In fact, Lex Mundi has an annual allowance of 30 minutes of free legal advice from each firm.

"I can call any Lex Mundi firm in the world," Parr said of the advice allowance. "It can't be some extremely difficult legal question that requires a lot of research. These are matters of things that lawyers practicing in their jurisdictions know just because they've been there a long time and they're experienced in a wide variety of disciplines."

Horlbeck goes on to write "In a legal marketplace that has gone global in the past several decades, that kind of access to trustworthy legal advice anywhere, anytime is essential, say Parr and other South Carolina lawyers familiar with such networks.

Horlbeck also gets input from David Dubberly, an attorney at Nexsen Pruet, whose firm is a member of Mackrell International, a Great Britain-based network.

Networks "kind of had to be invented because, in a law firm like this, you've got lawyers that are admitted in a number of states in the United States," Dubberly said. "When you have a client that has a deal in another country or wants to buy real estate in another country or puts a manufacturing operation in another country, you have to work alongside a local firm in that country to make sure that the client gets the advice that it needs under local law," said Dubberly, who co-chairs Nexsen-Pruet's international law team. "We can't give advice on the law of jurisdictions where we're not admitted."

Horlbeck writes that firms such as Wyche and Nexsen Pruet may typify the kids of firms that benefits from network membership, as they are big enough to have international clients, but not big enough to need their own overseas offices.

Horlbeck also gets input from Joel H. Samuels, an associate law professor who teaches international law at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

"Twenty years ago, the biggest firms in the country had outposts in foreign countries, but even they had only small offices. Now those big firms have expanded their foreign presences, but for middle and smaller-size firms, there was no connection whatsoever to foreign jurisdictions. So you were sort of left to chance to find out about foreign law when you had a case or transaction that required knowledge of substantive foreign law," Samuels said.

"I think (networks) are a positive development in terms of allowing middle and smaller firms to be able to conduct trans-border legal services," Samuels said.

Membership into these networks is not free, but both Parr and Dubberly agree that the advantages are worth the costs. In addition to paying annual dues, firms are held to high standards and are regularly evaluated to both gain and retain membership.

These rigorous admission processes give the affiliated firms confidence in other network lawyers. Parr comments that this confidence also comes from getting to know the other firms through events, such as international conferences and the like. "Over time you get to know the people in all the other firms," said Parr, whose firm recently hosted a Lex Mundi roundtable discussion in Greenville.

There are some skeptics of these networks, who prefer to keep databases of international talent for recruitment on specific matters. But, both Parr and Dubberly are huge advocates for their legal networks and have developed trusting relationships with attorneys in member firms of their respective networks.

Read the full article on SCLawyersweekly.com.