Joe Andrew, global chairman of Dentons, talked to In-House Community co-director Patrick Dransfield during a recent visit to Hong Kong about the challenges of running the world’s biggest law firm.
ASIAN-MENA COUNSEL: In your 30 years as a private practice lawyer, could you briefly sum up how you see the practice of law having changed and the factors that are driving these changes?
Joe Andrew: I think the three biggest changes I have seen during my career are the increased competitiveness of the legal market, the entry of non-law firm competitors in providing services that were traditionally the function of law firms and the impact that both of these developments have had on the traditional law firm economic model. The financial crisis of 2008 changed the legal marketplace from a seller’s market, in which law firms could generally assume each year’s revenues would be better than the last, to a buyer’s market, with clients aggressively seeking discounted rates, demanding alternative fee arrangements and bringing more work in-house. Prior to 2008, and accelerating since then, new technology and staffing companies entered the market and began selling services such as e-discovery, due diligence and project management directly to clients, delivering higher quality, lower cost services and undermining what had been traditional revenue sources for law firms. Consequently, the traditional economic and cultural model for law firms, with a select number of partners at the top of an organisational pyramid leveraging the work of a large number of associates, is fast being replaced and law firms across the world, including Dentons, are focused on transforming their operations to meet these challenges.
AMC: Putting yourself in the shoes of a potential client for a moment, Joe, what do you see as Dentons’ competitive advantage, firstly on an international basis and secondly in Asia and the Middle East?
AMC: You describe Dentons as ‘polycentric’; what does that actually mean regarding client service? Is it possible to talk about a Dentons identity from so many divergent pieces? What is the cohesive glue that keeps the Dentons family together?
AMC: What particular challenges does a federation of law firms face in contrast to the traditional law firm structure of one partnership, one profit pool and one firm? Has your experience in the political arena assisted you in global law firm management?
AMC: According to our own research* the appetite among billion-dollar company general counsel regarding a ‘one-stop- shop’ global law firm varies greatly in relation to which industry they are in. For example, over 80 percent of the energy/natural resources sector general counsel look for a single global solution. However, less than half of manufacturing-related general counsel are interested. Do you see a difference in how Dentons’ clients engage the firm according to industry?
AMC: How much of a problem is the issue of conflicts at the moment? Do you foresee this as being an inhibitor of growth in the future?
AMC: Numerically, the Dentons: 大成 merger brought an additional 3,000+ lawyers under the Dentons umbrella – by my reckoning almost half of the global total. However, according to recent Mergermarket numerical rankings and our own In-House Community survey, 大成 does not feature among the first or second tier firms. How is the Dentons China strategy playing out?
JA: Our combination with 大成 has been extremely successful both for our domestic Chinese clients and for international clients seeking to do business in China. The combination has established Dentons as the mostly widely recognised brand in China with more than 40 offices throughout the country, which is double our closest true competition. Most ratings focus only on the top two or three financial centres in the country and ignore the numerous sizeable markets elsewhere in China. As more and more companies and investors from all over the country look to international markets and opportunities, no firm is better positioned than Dentons to service those clients beyond China’s borders.
AMC: How does your captive Nextlaw Labs fit into the Dentons mix of services?
AMC: For any prospective managing partners out there, can you sum up the case for joining the Dentons family? Which countries and jurisdictions are you wishing to add to the Dentons global foot print?
AMC: Where do you see the firm in five years?
AMC: What is your hinterland (i.e. what are your interests outside of the firm)? How do you control your time so that you can pursue them?
Joe Andrew is the Global Chairman of Dentons, the largest law firm in the world with more than 7,500 lawyers in 140 locations across 58 countries. An accomplished and highly regarded corporate lawyer, Andrew may be best known for his role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the US from 1999 to 2001.
As Global Chairman of Dentons, Andrew is the architect of Dentons’ global strategy. He represents Dentons with clients around the world, key strategic partners, business and government leaders and other external groups. Central to his work has been his vision for the law firm of the future, which includes Dentons’ growth, integration and reinvention, such as Nextlaw Labs and the Nextlaw Global Referral Network.
Andrew has practised corporate law for nearly 30 years, focussing on mergers and acquistions of regulated companies. He has represented many Fortune 1000 companies in negotiating acquisitions, spinoffs, financings and corporate governance disputes.
Andrew is also an entrepreneur, a published author, a frequent speaker on political and demographic trends and a current and former leader of several non-profit organisations. He is the founder of a socially responsible mutual fund, a biotech consulting firm, a cleantech company and numerous non-profit organisations. In addition to his corporate legal background, he is a leader and speaker on the future, focussing on rule of law, corporate social responsibility, socially conscious investing, historic preservation, and architecture.
Andrew is a graduate of Yale University, where he was a Scholar of the House, and The Yale Law School. He is married to former US Ambassador Anne Slaughter Andrew and has two college age children.