Todd Rayner (seated, from left), Jennifer Edwards, Morgan Arndt, Danjuma Mshelia and (standing, from left) Nicole Dashiell, Lori Patton, Jamie Turley, Caroline Larson, Brendan O’Dea, Jamie Stone, Catherine Willis, Jeff Golimowski, Emily Doll and Will Bonas.
The leaders of Womble Bond Dickinson—the product of a big, transatlantic law firm tie-up—want their combined firm to share more than a brand. So when Jamie Turley, a first-year trainee in the Aberdeen office, pitched an exchange program for associate-level lawyers in the U.S. and U.K., they signed off.
“I’m the most junior, and the global board bought the idea,” said Turley, who joined the firm last September, right before the Nov. 1 tie-up between North Carolina-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and the U.K.’s Bond Dickinson. The deal united two middle-market firms with strong regional roots to create a transatlantic firm with more than 1,000 lawyers in 26 offices and combined revenue of roughly $410 million.
The exchange program, dubbed the Transatlantic Lawyer Network, unites 11 younger lawyers from the U.K. and the U.S., whom the board selected from a large pool of applicants.
Turley and five other U.K. lawyers visited Womble Bond Dickinson’s offices in Atlanta and Charlotte last week to meet their five U.S. counterparts in person and learn how the U.S. side of the firm works. This fall, the American associates will visit them in London in what is planned as an annual program.
The Daily Report met the group in Atlanta to find out what the inaugural class is getting out of their exchange so far.
In a whirlwind three-day visit, the group met with co-CEOs Betty Temple from Womble and Jonathan Blair from Bond Dickinson, had breakfast with the global board and talked with partners about the U.S. approach to business development. They also managed to fit in an evening of bowling.
The young lawyers said they were pleased that Womble Bond Dickinson’s leadership is promoting integration from the grassroots, with them, and not just from the top down.
Turley said he’d been “wondering how we could bring people together” from both sides of the firm.
“We work in a people business, so face-to-face contacts are important,” he said. “Our junior people are the future. There’s a lot to learn from both sides—and it will ultimately make the firm stronger.”
Turley and his colleagues said they think the Womble Bond Dickinson tie-up has great potential for expanding services and client opportunities, and they want to help make it actually happen.
“For my practice, it’s been great,” said Emily Doll, who is on Womble’s international arbitration team in Charlotte. The firm’s international arbitration lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic have been pitching clients jointly, Doll said, and the U.K. locations have been helpful for the firm’s U.S. lawyers handling arbitrations in London and Paris.
But, she added, some teams less directly connected to the U.K. have not seen much difference so far in their day-to-day practice.
“I’m excited about the combination because of the extra services we can offer to clients and the new opportunities,” said Morgan Arndt, a corporate and securities associate in Womble’s Greenville, South Carolina, office.
But she hasn’t seen any change firsthand yet, which is why she wanted to participate in the exchange. “I want to bring out all the benefits, so it’s not just a name change on the letterhead and a new logo,” she said.
The global board, chaired by Temple and Blair, has challenged the 11 exchange participants to develop a plan for integrating young lawyers across the two firms.
Each participant arrived in Atlanta last week with an idea, and over the course of their exchange they will winnow and refine those 11 ideas into a coherent integration plan to present to the global board.
The junior lawyers can “bring forward these ideas from a different perspective,” said Todd Rayner, who’s on the transport team in Newcastle, England.
The assignment also develops their project management skills, which are important for today’s legal practice, said the firm’s chief learning officer, Lori Patton, who planned the group’s schedule.
Brendan O’Dea, an Atlanta patent associate, said he wants to take advantage of the new capabilities that the combination brings. “I’m eager to get it started, but there’s a disconnect from [learning about] clients on the other side of the pond,” he said.
To share clients, Womble Bond Dickinson’s U.S. and U.K. lawyers must know what the other half of the firm has to offer and whom to contact, the exchange participants said.
Getting to know some of the U.K. lawyers in person makes a difference, O’Dea said. “Now they’re not just names, but actual colleagues you can call,” he said.
“Just knowing who to ask” has been an initial benefit of the exchange, said Caroline Larson, who’s on the commercial property disputes team in Southampton, England. “The grand project of the alliance is exciting, but on the ground, who do you go to?”
Catherine Wills in Leeds, England, said she’s worked on a few transactions with a U.S. element, so she wanted to see how the U.S. lawyers do things. “The next time someone asks who in the U.S. do I speak to—now I have the answer,” she said.
Making contacts with his U.S. colleagues is important, said Danjuma Mshelia, who’s in the private wealth group in Bristol, England, since U.K. clients often have assets in the United States, where the firm also has an established private wealth practice.
“The business of law is about relationships, and good client service comes from that,” Mshelia said. “We’re trying to improve those relationships at all levels.”
Jenny Edwards, a real estate law practitioner in London, said she hadn’t understood how specialized some of the U.S. work is, with focuses on serving furniture and tobacco manufacturers that go back to Womble’s roots in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The U.K. lawyers can take that information back to their clients, Edwards said. “You never know where those conversations might lead.”