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“It’s the big battle of the day,” says AOL Europe General Counsel Clare Gilbert over lunch at a London cafe a few blocks away from AOL’s U.K. headquarters. Gilbert is talking about her company’s efforts to get European telecom companies to charge Internet service users a flat monthly fee, rather than per-minute rates. “The telcos are making shitloads of money,” says Gilbert, who estimates that she spends half her time managing AOL’s 10-lawyer pan-European legal team and the rest working on regulatory and policy issues. Gilbert sits on the board of the U.K. arm of Internet Service Providers Organization, a European association that runs an Internet watch hotline and has advised the European Commission on e-commerce, copyright, and data protection issues. Dressed in a stylish suit and chunky necklace, Gilbert, 34, seems to be London’s answer to Ally McBeal, but she’s known inside AOL as Europe’s Paul Cappuccio. Promoted to general counsel last August, Gilbert first joined the company in March 1998 after doing transactions work for AOL while at London’s Nabarro Nathanson and Masons. Unlike her U.S. counterpart, Gilbert isn’t tempted to act as a business adviser. “I tend to be a sounding board. I’m at arm’s length; I’m not a stuck-in-the-weed business person,” she says. Indeed, Gilbert was far from the negotiating table when parent company America Online hammered out its industry-roiling deal with Time Warner Inc. She only learned about the merger when it was announced and didn’t work on it other than setting up meetings at the European Commission for George Vradenberg III, the global policy vice president. When it comes to choosing outside counsel, Gilbert isn’t sold on one-stop shopping. “We tend to use specialists; we don’t use one firm,” she says, adding that she farms out commercial work to McNeive, intellectual property work to Nicholson Graham & Jones, and telecom regulation matters to Baker & McKenzie. Gilbert says she shies away from using U.S. lawyers because “local lawyers have a real understanding of the local legal systems, regulators, and the European Commission.” Besides, Gilbert says, U.S. lawyers cost more. “Their bills always come back higher,” she says, shaking her head. Even though billable rates for attorneys at U.S. firms are lower, they tend to charge more hours for the same size projects than European lawyers, according to Gilbert. Still, Gilbert doesn’t consider choosing outside counsel to be the most thrilling aspect of her job — she’d rather spend that time shaping the future of the high-tech industry. “From a lawyer’s perspective,” she says, “you make the law.” HUSTLE IN BRUSSELS James Venit loves the subject of economics. He loves reading about it and talking about it, but most of all, he loves using it to win merger approval from the European Commission for such clients as America Online Inc. and the Allied Signal Corp. “My approach to merger work is ‘unlegal.’ I think a lot about economics, and I don’t care about precedents,” says Venit, who chairs Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering’s firmwide antitrust and competition department with Washington, D.C.-based partner William Kolasky. Venit worked for Cleary, Gottleib, Steen & Hamilton in Brussels before joining Wilmer, Cutler when the firm first opened in Brussels with two partners and two associates in 1989. The office has grown to seven partners and 16 associates, with most of the growth in the past three years, he says. Venit credits Wilmer, Cutler’s recent growth to the increase in merger, cartel, and trade work. Plus, says Venit, the firm’s brand recognition has improved, “more because of individual lawyers than the name of the firm.” Venit has had a lot to do with the firm’s stellar reputation in Brussels. A well-known competition lawyer, he attributes a good deal of his success to having developed relationships with the entrenched regulators inside the European Commission. “Nobody goes in and out of the Commission, [and] for that reason they are more willing to see outside people,” he says, adding, “You have to be here to do that.” Even with all his inside connections, Venit says that “the European Commission’s perception of aggressive competition as brass-knuckles capitalism” makes his job frustrating at times. Also, because merger decisions aren’t subject to court review, regulators in Europe have a lot more power than they do in the United States. “Imagine if you had a bureaucracy that made decisions about merger control and didn’t have to answer to Congress,” says Venit, a native of Manhattan. Still, Venit says what he enjoys most is the intellectual challenge and isn’t tempted to scrap Europe to go head to head with the U.S. Justice Department and other stateside regulatory bodies. He loves Europe too much to leave, he says. “Life is somewhat easier, less abrasive and quick-paced,” he says, even though he works most days from six in the morning to eight at night. When he’s not filing notifications with the Competition Department, Venit likes to listen to classical music, read biographies, and go for long runs in the nearby Bois de la Cambre, the closest thing to New York’s Central Park that Brussels offers. Venit considers himself a Belgian at heart, except for two things — he neither drinks beer nor eats chocolate. A&P ON THE THAMES Fern O’Brien is your typical heavy-hitter D.C. attorney. In 1984 she clerked for Kenneth Starr during his first year on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. As a consumer-products litigator at Arnold & Porter, she argued a case involving blood bank safety before the Supreme Court on behalf of the American Red Cross, and represented cigarette-maker Philip Morris in tobacco litigation. O’Brien even won popularity with her colleagues as chair of Arnold & Porter’s flexible child-care program. Then, last June, O’Brien packed up her Bethesda, Md., home, husband, and two adolescent daughters, and relocated to England to become her firm’s London administrative partner. These days, she spends much of her time recruiting British lawyers and thinking about Arnold & Porter’s European strategy. Arnold & Porter’s managing partner, Jim Sandman, says that O’Brien was tapped for her “great administrative and organizational ability.” Sandman says that in the year that O’Brien has been in charge of the 20-lawyer London office, it has become “even better integrated” with the rest of the firm and “enthusiasm about the office” has soared. O’Brien says that when Arnold & Porter originally opened in London, the office focused on corporate finance work and debt refinancing for sovereign states. The firm’s new strategy is to lock in on the high-tech and biotech industries. Recently, the office handled the European filing for Computer Associates International Inc.’s $4 billion acquisition of Sterling Software Inc. Still, O’Brien says the London outpost will continue to build its pharmaceutical, consumer products, and telecommunications practices. “These are our areas of strength in Washington, and they’re the hot areas in Europe,” she says. It’s important to O’Brien to see to it that traditions that have grown out of the firm’s D.C. office — such as weekly gatherings in a recreational room — get transferred over to Europe, even though only four of the office’s attorneys are from the United States. An English literature and history undergraduate major at the University of North Carolina, O’Brien gets a kick out of the linguistic differences between her British colleagues and herself. “If you don’t watch ‘EastEnders’ [a long-running British soap opera], you can’t talk to the staff,” she jokes. CZECH CONNECTION Raymond Batla Jr. boasts that he can sleep anytime, anyplace — planes, trains, or automobiles. That’s a key attribute, since Batla, a Hogan & Hartson rainmaker, spends much of his time traveling between his home bases of Washington, D.C., and London. In 1990, Batla worked alongside Madeleine Albright, Sen. John McCain, and musician Paul Simon as an election monitor for the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic’s first democratic elections. Even 10 years later, on a cloudy afternoon in London, Batla still gets emotional as he recalls the swaying of the huge crowd that had gathered to cheer on the newly elected Czech President Vaclav Havel, holding up lit candles as Paul Simon sang his sentimental ballad “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” “It was an electric moment,” he says. As soon as Batla returned to Washington, he went to the Czech Embassy and found 83 companies with major exports to the United States. He sent each of them a five-page document offering his legal services, took two trips, visiting 26 companies per trip, and came away with 13 new clients. In 1991, Hogan sent Batla, who grew up in Texas speaking Czech with his immigrant parents, to open the firm’s Prague office; five years later he was dispatched to open the firm’s doors in Budapest. Both offices have stayed open while other U.S.-based firms’ outposts in Central Europe folded after the collapse of the Russian economy in 1998 sent shock waves through the Central European investment community. While London is home to only six Hogan attorneys, Prague has seven lawyers and Budapest eight. Hogan managing partner Robert Glen Odle says that Batla is “more than just a guy doing deals.” A member of the firm’s five-person executive committee, Batla is also Odle’s rumored successor as managing partner. Batla declined to comment on the speculation. While Batla’s specialty of negotiating international energy project financing hails back to his Texan roots, his experience doing dozens of privatizations, mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructurings, cross-border equity and debt investments, and international joint ventures reflects his international background. Although his work takes him throughout Central Europe, Batla says that it’s most important for him to be in London because “virtually all project financings happen under U.S. and U.K. law.” SHAW’S U.K. RECRUITS Shaw Pittman may be a new name on the London legal scene, but it bought itself a team of well-established U.K. attorneys. The firm hired partner Andrew Dunlop, 35, away from the prestigious U.K. firm Freshfields and associate Chris Holder, also 35, from the in-house department at IBM in London to head up the office’s complex technology transactions practice. Two other partners — one British, one Australian — came on board as well. “We put the four of them together, breaking the rule about taking a senior person from the mother ship to send them out to help colonize the new area,” managing partner Paul Mickey says about his firm’s approach to opening a London office. The risky venture has worked so far — the vibe in the office is fun, cheery, and charged with energy. Thanks to information technology heavyweights like Dunlop and Holder, the firm won the IP/IT team of the year award from U.K. trade publication Legal Business. The office has grown to 12 attorneys, with space for eight more, and continues to rake in deals like the $650 million telecom and e-commerce outsourcing agreement between MCI Worldcom and BP Amoco. But Dunlop acknowledges he has a real advantage over his American counterparts at U.S. firms. “It’s a small, small world, and it’s nice to sit across from people you know,” Dunlop says. Holder may be less tapped into the London private practice circuit than Dunlop, but he has the in-house edge, having worked for IBM in South Africa and London. Holder first heard about Shaw Pittman when he was on a business trip in New York to negotiate a deal. The company on the other side of the table had hired some attorneys from Shaw Pittman as their outside counsel. Referring to IBM, Holder says, “Simlpy the biggest IT company on the planet was terrified of them,” adding that Shaw Pittman lawyers are known for their understanding of the technology and business considerations for these types of deals. Holder adds that at Shaw Pittman he can “get involved in the decision-making process instead of just drawing up the documents.” Dunlop, who was born and raised in Scotland, says the London office will continue to focus on handling technology outsourcing, but hopes to add regulatory lawyers with telecom industry backgrounds. A BOURGEOIS TOWN Jacques Bourgeois is a hard man to quote — not because he doesn’t have anything interesting to say, but because he can’t confine himself to speaking in sound bites. An hour-long interview with the Belgian lawyer and lobbyist could fill an entire reporter’s notebook. Sitting at a sleek wood conference table in a room overlooking the ultra-chic Avenue Louise, Bourgeois, 63, is every bit the Brussels power broker. Elegantly dressed and an enthusiastic conversationalist, he knows how to communicate with the European Union bureaucrats who run the city because he once was one of them. After heading the Trade Policy Instruments Division in the Directorate General for External Relations from 1983 to 1987, Bourgeois spent four more years as the principal legal adviser to the European Commission on foreign trade and antitrust policy. As Bourgeois makes his way around a plate of chocolate-dipped butter cookies, he remembers when Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld founder Robert Strauss invited him to the Brussels office’s grand opening back in 1989. But when Bourgeois left the commission in 1991, he joined Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie’s Brussels office, not Akin, Gump. “Baker & McKenzie was the only [U.S.-based] firm that a Belgian could join and be readmitted into the Belgian bar,” Bourgeois explains. In 1994, the rules changed and Belgian lawyers could retain their bar memberships while working at foreign firms. Soon after, Bourgeois jumped to Akin, Gump, where he has focused on antitrust and international trade matters, such as anti-dumping and anti-subsidy proceedings. “The bulk of our work comes from the U.S., as a result of the Washington office,” says Bourgeois about the stateside genesis of his regulatory practice. Akin’s office in Brussels, once with as many as 30 lawyers, is now at 12. As firm chairman R. Bruce McLean notes, “We thought [Brussels] was going to be the Washington of Europe, and to some extent it was, but not completely.” Bourgeois says he’s currently handling the European antitrust issues related to the merger of a U.S. chemical company with a U.S. drug company, as well as work stemming from a vitamin price-fixing investigation.

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