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On the Road: How CEE Law Firms Structure Their BD Trips to the United Kingdom

On the Road: How CEE Law Firms Structure Their BD Trips to the United Kingdom

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Another in our series of articles leading up to the 2020 Dealer’s Choice Law Firm Summit and Deal of the Year Awards in London.

As the world shrinks and competition for clients grows, CEE law firms are increasingly looking to major UK or US-based firms for referrals. To develop the kinds of relationships that can lead to these referrals, firms often send partners to London to meet with partners at the major international firms based there to establish the kinds of relationships that could, at some point, result in business.

With the 2020 Dealer’s Choice Summit being held for the first time ever in London specifically to facilitate the meetings that are so critical to these relationships, we reached out to the event’s sponsors to understand more about how they conduct these Road Shows, and how the Dealer’s Choice event will help them establish, maintain, and/or strengthen relationships with international law firms.

What Do CEE Law Firms’ Road Shows Look Like?

“We call our trips ‘city breaks,’ and do them regularly, with London being the most frequent destination,” says Tomas Dolezil, Partner and Head of Corporate/PE at the JSK law firm in Prague, whose firm is a member of the Dealer’s-Choice-sponsoring Pontes Alliance. Dolezil says that the Pontes firms make these city breaks in “full strength as Pontes” every spring, although there are also a “few other opportunities during the year when some members of the firm or the network visit London and meet up with our contacts.” 

“During the main London trip we arrange over 20 meetings with clients, international law firms, and other advisors,” Dolezil reports, adding that the partners focus mostly on “relevant practices and sectors,” and “diligently select the size and composition” of their delegation. Of course, not all the BD for foreign business takes place in foreign countries, and Dolezil reports that each year he and his counterparts at Pontes also organize an event at an embassy in one of the countries where Pontes members are located to “brief the audience about legal and business developments in the CEE region.”

“We already have a network of contacts, which we constantly develop and upgrade,” Dolezil says. This list is based on personal relationships and referrals which, in most cases, “overlap with practice areas and specific projects,” and he reports that he and his colleagues “try to avoid having a firm being approached by more than one person from Pontes at any time.”

Dolezil smiles as he describes a particularly memorable element of JSK road shows. “As my partner Roman Kramarik is a pilot who has flown around the globe,” he says, “we sometimes fly his Cessna to these places. It requires careful planning but always attracts the attention of the people we meet and makes our visit quite unique. People remember that for a long time.” 

Though he usually flying commercially, Mykola Stetsenko, Co-Managing Partner at Avellum in Ukraine, says road shows are a regular part of his firm’s BD schedule as well. “We usually do such BD trips 3-4 times a year to London and other major cities in Europe,” he says. “And we usually meet with law firms who work with us on joint deals, as well as clients, if they are available.” He says that they try and meet with several new firms during each visit as well to “broaden the firm’s network of contacts.”

Stetsenko adds that the way Avellum arranges its trips varies, with the firm often initially reaching out to existing contacts at the target firm to “ask them to meet and invite interested partners along for the meeting.” Other times, they will ask for introductions, as well as sending direct emails to “new firms that we want to meet.”

Slaughter and May Partner Jonathan Marks, who is based in London, regularly hosts visitors from CEE. “London is an important city for many law firms as a number of clients and international law firms are based here,” he says, “so we often meet with lawyers from the CEE region at our offices.” These visits are often necessitated by client work, he explains, so “the lawyers use the opportunity to catch up with us as they are over anyway.” On other occasions, of course, the visits are part of a purely business-development-oriented trip.

Marks says that the format of these visits often consists of “a brief geopolitical and economic update from their country as well as sharing any new legal developments, providing news of recent deals, and identifying potential opportunities of collaboration.” For Slaughter & May, at least, Marks reports that the ideal frequency of these visits is “a few CEE firms a month.”

How Valuable Are Road Shows?

While it may be difficult to measure the exact impact of these activities on a given law firm’s business, there is little doubt that the trips are valuable. “Productivity is difficult to measure and depends on the relationship with the contact person and the preparation for the meeting,” JSK’s Dolezil says. However, he says, “when the topics on the agenda are current” that usually means “higher productivity and greater results with specific follow-up.” And he says that “personal meetings are essential for building confidence and trust,” and that e-mails, calls, rankings, and social media contacts, “while important themselves, cannot replace real faces and handshakes.”

Stetsenko agrees that a “face-to-face meetings are always better.” He believes the visits are “absolutely” productive, noting that “at some meetings we may have a very detailed discussion with a London partner about a legal issue in Ukraine and, upon returning home, we may get an instruction from that law firm.” As a result, Stetsenko says that they try to be “helpful to international law firms” by highlighting recent legislative and market trends in Ukraine.

And sometimes the in-person meetings provide an opportunity for unexpected contacts. Stetsenko recalls that “we had a meeting once with a major law firm and a partner walked in. We had not worked together before, and in fact he had had little interaction with Ukraine in the past. However, he had a client and a project on his table at that time that required substantial involvement of a Ukrainian law firm. So he basically ran a series of questions by me at that meeting – sort of like an oral exam on the topic and industry. Eventually, he was satisfied and left the meeting. In less than a week we got appointed on that transaction, which lasted more than a year and was quite successful for us.”

“It’s all helpful,” Marks says, referring to both face-to-face meetings and other forms of communication. “Building relationships through meetings and attending conferences such as the Dealers Choice conference, but also raising your brand and profile by traditional marketing - it is important to share thought leadership and know-how.” He says that while “it’s great to have a strong brand,” having “solid relationships” with strategic personnel at other firms is critical as well, “as the brand in itself won’t necessarily translate to more work, which is what we all want.”

“As a firm we place a lot of value on the many relationships we hold with our clients, relationship law firms, and contacts across the globe,” Marks says. “Getting in touch if the law firm has an opportunity for a joint pitch or wants help with a referral is also a good targeted way of proceeding. We are happy to help, and have put in pitches, joined calls, and even jumped on a plane to help to join a pitch.” To this end, Slaughter and May has an International Relations team in order to arrange meetings. “One of the primary roles of our International Relations team is to oversee our relationships with law firms globally,” he says, “as it is important to us to ensure that we know the best law firms so we can provide seamless service to our clients in whatever part of the world they are working in.”

All taken together, Marks believes that BD road shows allow him to meet law firms from the region, as “it can often be difficult to carve out time for multiple BD trips to the many CEE countries, and it is valuable to have an opportunity to meet them when in London.”

Dealer’s Choice Summit – a Perfect Opportunity?

“Time permitting, we take a flexible approach and also meet lawyers at conferences,” Marks says, referring to “regional events like the Dealers Choice Conference taking place in London next year, which provides an opportunity for CEE lawyers to network with international law firms, establish new relationships, and also discuss topics and issues pertinent to doing business in CEE.”

Marks notes that of course there are never any guarantees that business will arise directly from attending conferences, but he says that he “would like to think that the Dealers Choice conference will provide many networking opportunities, a chance to share experiences of working in the region with like-minded people, and discuss how we can better service our clients.” 

To maximize the value of the Dealer’s Choice event, Marks reports that Slaughter and May is “very excited to be hosting a drinks reception the evening before the conference at our London office,” which he describes as a great opportunity for Slaughter and May partners to connect with clients and law firms from CEE.

Stetsenko also believes that the Dealer’s Choice event will be a “fantastic opportunity to have face-to-face meetings” with old friends and prospective contacts, and that he hopes “we can bring good news from Ukraine to London, given that Ukraine is poised to implement several major reforms.” He believes this will be a topic of significant interest, especially to firms who work on transactions in Ukraine.

The Dealer’s Choice International Law Firm Summit, co-hosted by Slaughter and May, will be held in conjunction with the third annual CEE Deal of the Year Awards Banquet on April 23, 2019, at the HAC in London. Sponsors of Dealer’s Choice include Avellum (for Ukraine), Cipcic-Bragadin and Associates (for Croatia), JPM Jankovic Popovic Mitic (for Serbia), Kolcuoglu Demirkan Kocakli (for Turkey), and Nagy & Trocsanyi (for Hungary), as well as the Adriala law firm alliance and the Pontes the CEE lawyers law firm alliance. For tickets or other information please contact CEE Legal Matters.

This Article was originally published in Issue 6.10 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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