In 1994, I was asked by my partners at Hewitsons LLP to form a law group to look after the needs of clients doing business internationally.
Typically, a client would be setting up joint venture or entering into a licence agreement with, say, a company in Germany or the US and would need to know that the agreement would work in that jurisdiction. There were, of course, legal directories available – but contacting a lawyer one had never met, or even spoken to, was not an ideal client service. From recognising this problem, LawExchange International (LEI) was born.
In 2019, LEI is celebrating its 25th
anniversary. From small beginnings, we have grown to comprise an impressive 34 member firms across the world, in 30 jurisdictions, together employing some 1,700 lawyers. Each member firm has been carefully selected based on several factors, including professional competence, reputation, integrity and commitment to exceptional client service. As such, they include some of the top commercial firms serving middle-market and entrepreneurial businesses around the world.
For clients with international legal concerns, having access to this trusted network through their local law firm is invaluable. LEI firms possess the knowledge necessary to navigate laws, procedures, economic and business climates, cultures and politics in their local jurisdictions. This is why, for example, Hewitsons receives such a large volume of referral work from the US and other countries around the world, covering everything from Corporate dealings to Private Wealth matters.
An integral part of LEI’s client service, we have always believed, stems from the frequency of our conferences and the friendships they produce. Unlike many other law groups, LEI meets twice a year, in spring and autumn, when members take it in turn to host our conferences. These include two full days of lectures, break-out groups and discussions.
In addition, we hold annual regional conferences for the Americas, Europe and the Asia Pacific region. We regard these as very important, as they enable member firms to send delegates who would not normally attend the ‘full’ conferences. Themes for recent regional conferences of our European member firms have included Employment Law and Private Client Law. As a result, lawyers specialising in these topics in our 12 European member firms have formed lasting and effective relationships.
Current LEI initiatives include the setting up of the ‘LEI Help Desk’, through which the group’s largest firms offer to provide help and guidance to the smaller firms on the key issues of IT, finance and marketing.
Members joining LEI are required to observe our Protocols on Referrals and Service Delivery. We take quality control issues particularly seriously. Each member firm is required to nominate two of its partners as ’gatekeepers’, who are responsible for overseeing any referrals made by other members to their firm.
Our name incorporates the word ’exchange’ and, indeed, this is a significant aspect of what we do. We encourage our member firms to arrange secondments for their young lawyers to other member firms, usually for periods of between two and four weeks. These exchanges form an important part in the development of friendships within our group.
As the Secretary of LEI, I am frequently asked by colleagues whether I can put them in touch with a lawyer in another country. In addition to those countries where we have a member firm, we also maintain a Register of Correspondent Law Firms. This is for lawyers in countries in which we do not currently see the need to have a member, but in which it is, nevertheless, important to have a connection.
We are fortunate in that our member firm in Dubai, AC&H, is also a founder member of the African Legal Network (ALN), a group with 16 member firms in Africa. Although ALN is not a member of LEI, our members and their clients have access, through our colleagues in Dubai, to a large network of law firms in those countries.
I am convinced that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the expertise of law groups such as LEI will play an increasingly important role in the commercial dealings and requirements of UK businesses.
For more information, visit www.hewitsons.com/international
or connect with LEI on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/lawexchange-international