Seven months into the trans-Atlantic merger that created Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, co-CEO Therese Pritchard and Atlanta managing partner G. Patrick Watson say the big push is to integrate the legacy Bryan Cave and Berwin Leighton Paisner sides—and they are already seeing increases in client activity.
For her part, Pritchard is constantly globe-trotting to connect partners and clients, while Watson is staying put in Atlanta to link local clients’ overseas legal needs with new European colleagues.
There have been a spate of trans-Atlantic combinations over the last few years, such as the recent Eversheds Sutherland and Womble Bond Dickinson deals. Uniquely, the BCLP deal, creating a roughly 1,400 lawyer firm with $900 million in revenue, is a true financial and operational merger, not a combination with separate profit and expense pools for each entity, such as a Swiss verein.
Pritchard, formerly Bryan Cave’s CEO, said she and co-CEO Lisa Mayhew from Berwin Leighton Paisner wanted to create a financially integrated firm to incentivize lawyers to collaborate and cross-refer clients.
“That provides a great deal of benefit to the client,” Pritchard added. “We are all incentivized to work together to find the best person in our system to address client needs. Our partners know they do get the benefit out of that approach.”
She acknowledged that made the tie-up far more complicated for tax and regulatory issues, taking six months from when Bryan Cave and BLP confirmed discussions in Oct. 2017 to when the merger took effect last April.
“Incentivizing teamwork and sharing is a fundamental concept in this deal,” Pritchard said.
How much credit partners get for referrals and other compensation issues are still being sorted out, she added, but the collaboration is happening.
Atlanta Clients in Europe
BCLP’s Atlanta office, a sizable but still regional location, provides a window into how the merger may be playing out for the firm’s 560 partners. About two-thirds of the firm’s 1,400 lawyers, who now span 32 offices in 11 countries, came from St. Louis-based Bryan Cave and the rest from London-based BLP.
The 90-lawyer Atlanta location is BCLP’s fourth-largest office, after London, St. Louis and New York. In the BCLP office listing, it’s now sandwiched between Abu Dhabi and Berlin.
Watson, an antitrust partner, said he and his Atlanta partners were enthusiastic about the merger, but “to be absolutely honest, I was not sure what, if any, impact it would have on Atlanta.”
While there are a lot of synergies between New York and London, he explained, “I was not so sure about Atlanta. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.”
Currently, Atlanta partners are sending more work abroad to legacy BLP offices than they receive in return, but Watson thinks that will change as European partners get to know the Atlanta landscape.
Even so, Atlanta partners benefit from sending work to London, he said. The firm is still working out how credit will be allocated, but the compensation committee, now called the remuneration committee, would award it to both Atlanta and London partners.
So far, the Atlanta office has sent more than $2 million in work abroad, Watson said—almost all of it work Bryan Cave previously would not have been able to handle. While Bryan Cave had offices in London, Paris and Germany, he said the coverage was not broad-based across practices.
“We are in a position to provide broader and deeper services to large corporate clients. That was the objective of the combination, and it is happening,” Watson said.
It’s been a busy year for deals, Watson said, so Atlanta lawyers have been sending a lot of transactional work to their European colleagues from both publicly traded national corporations and local businesses.
Several Atlanta clients either have European operations or are acquiring companies that do, Watson said, including a local investment fund, Privet Fund Management, which acquired a company with European operations earlier this year. Another client, a publicly traded plastics manufacturer, made a European acquisition.
That kind of transactional work before would have been referred to a European firm. Now it stays with BCLP.
Atlanta partners also have sent employment and data privacy matters to their European partners, Watson said, for both multinational public companies and Hi-Rez Studios, an Alpharetta-based video game maker with offices in Brighton, England, and Shenzhen, China.
Trusts and estates work for individual clients with assets abroad also now stays with the firm, Watson said, adding that he expects incoming European referrals to increase over time.
“I don’t think Atlanta is necessarily on the radar screen for people in London. Once they visit and see the amount of work over here, I think they are very impressed with the opportunities,” he said.
Watson said he’s advised European colleagues on antitrust litigation, while Atlanta banking partners have gained business from clients introduced by a visiting European colleague.
“I think it will pick up,” Watson said, adding that several London partners have recently visited Atlanta to exchange client introductions.
While the trans-Atlantic merger expands Bryan Cave’s capabilities abroad, Watson said that collaborating across offices is nothing new.
Atlanta partners already have been sending about a third of their client work to other offices and receiving about the same, since they joined Bryan Cave a decade ago through its acquisition of Atlanta’s Powell Goldstein, Watson said, so they are acclimated to “traveling to the expertise.”
The key is finding the right partners in other offices. “You have to get to know enough people in every office and practice group, so that, if you need a specific type of work,” Watson said, you either know who does it or someone who can tell you.
“It’s something the Powell Goldstein lawyers have had to get used to—and we have. You find your person,” Watson said.
To assist, the firm has created a phone app for everyone in the firm that provides a quick reference directory
It’s more of a challenge to integrate internationally, Watson acknowledged, adding that the firm has used a lot of video conferences instead of “jetting people around the world.”
“Lisa Mayhew and I sometimes feel like we’re running a dating service,” Pritchard said. “It does take work to get people together meeting each other.”
The firms held an all-partner retreat in Boca Raton, Florida, less than a month after the merger, which helped, she said. More than 500 partners attended to meet their new practice and industry group colleagues and to get acquainted socially.
At one reception, Pritchard said, she took it as a good sign that “everybody I knew was talking to people I didn’t know.”
Watson said he’s been staying in Atlanta to “mind the fort,” adding that the antitrust practice’s London leader has invited him to come visit, but he’s too busy with deals right now.
Pritchard, on the other hand, circumnavigated the globe last week, traveling to London, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong. “I’m still not sure exactly what time it is,” she said.
Self-care is important for a law firm leader with a grueling travel and work schedule, and Pritchard said she’s doing her best. “I try to subscribe to the fish-and-salad rule on the road. I fail as much as I succeed.”
She tries to get seven hours of sleep a night, but when she has a flight departing Hong Kong at 2:20 a.m., that’s easier said than done.
“I can’t say that self-care can rank very high at the moment,” she said. “You deal with jet lag as best you can.”