Walkers is marking key anniversaries in its London, Jersey and Guernsey offices this year, with the London team turning 20, and the Jersey and Guernsey offices marking their 15th and 5th birthdays respectively. In this Q&A, Jack Boldarin (London managing partner), Jonathan Heaney (Jersey managing partner), Fraser Hern (head of the Channel Islands) and Matt Sanders (Guernsey managing partner) reflect on the importance of London, Jersey and Guernsey to the offshore market, and their role in the wider marketplace.
Your London, Jersey and Guernsey offices are all marking significant anniversaries this year - what makes the London market so important to an offshore firm?
Jack Boldarin: London was our first international office outside of the Cayman Islands 20 years ago because we believed then, as we do now, that being a leading player in London is vital to our global client base. Our London team has expanded to 100 colleagues and we have the resources of 325 colleagues in Europe and 950 globally. As well as being widely acclaimed as the pre-eminent global offshore law firm, our scale enables us to bring unparalleled insight into global trends and market practice.
We provide time-zone sensitive Bermuda, BVI and Cayman law support to our EMEA-based clients from our London office through a full service team of lawyers, and, because we are fully integrated with our other European practices in Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey, we are able to simplify matters for onshore counsel by looking after the whole offshore/midshore piece under one roof. Our unique jurisdictional offering resonates deeply with clients.
We are able to combine long-established and dominant practices in Cayman, BVI, London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, with deep roots and connections in their markets, with fast-growing practices in Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and Bermuda, where we are taking significant market share and disrupting the status quo.
Amidst significant disruption, what is your reading on the health and prospects of Jersey and Guernsey to the legal market today?
Fraser Hern: We see significant prospects for growth in our Channel Islands business - our combined Jersey and Guernsey offering has more than doubled in size in the past two years, with growth right across our core product lines. That growth has been fuelled by not just our confidence, but also our clients' confidence in us. There is growing demand for Jersey and Guernsey law advice and not just in the London market, where the Channel Islands have long been favoured offshore jurisdictions, but in a growing number of international markets. Whether it's in terms of newer products such as foundations and private funds, or more established products such as Jersey Property Unit Trusts and Guernsey Discretionary Trusts, we are seeing increased demand fuelled by our ability to support the Channel Islands product across our global network.
The key for us is to be authentically joined-up - in London, Jersey and Guernsey, we have cross-jurisdiction practice groups working to a single integrated business plan, and we're also collaborating with colleagues in Bermuda, BVI, Cayman, Dubai, Hong Kong, Ireland and Singapore. Having moved to the Channel Islands after almost 10 years in Walkers' Hong Kong and Singapore offices, my personal perspective is that there is a huge opportunity to export those laws in the same way that BVI and Cayman law have been so successfully exported around the world.
We have seen offshore firms in the London market downsizing and some leaving the market - why is Walkers on the opposite trajectory?
Jack Boldarin: London is the key financial centre in the world and, given the opportunity that the City presents, not just to our European offices but to the firm globally, it makes absolute sense for us to not only be present but to expand our offering in London in response to increasing client demand. We offer a full-service team across our core practice groups and not just as a representative pathway to our other offices, which is the strategy that some others have pursued. Our London team is the biggest offshore team in the City, which enables us to fully support our EMEA-based clients in their own time zone.
What market trends are helping to drive your business and growth in the Channel Islands?
Jonathan Heaney: There are opportunities right across the spectrum - in my area as an investment funds and corporate lawyer, we have seen more and more use of private fund structures by both start-up managers and more established fund promotors across the globe and within private wealth structuring. Regulatory arbitrage is a consideration, not aimed at avoiding regulation but at achieving the most appropriate form for the level of sophistication of the investor base. On the corporate side, we are also advising on restructuring work, often together with our insolvency and dispute-resolution colleagues. We are also seeing deal flow recover, especially in the UK real estate sector. Our banking and finance teams have been particularly busy and are seeing some interesting trends coming out of the emergence of non-bank lenders into the market.
Which international jurisdictions are you seeing as growth markets for your European offshore business?
Fraser Hern: London is the immediate priority for us, along with the local domestic markets for Jersey and Guernsey, but the opportunity is not limited to those three centres, or even to this time zone. We have done a great deal of work with Russian and CIS clients over the years, as well as clients from western Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. We take a genuinely international perspective - the partnership in Jersey, Guernsey, Ireland and London includes lawyers who have worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, Australia, BVI, Cayman, Bermuda, Moscow, South Africa, New Zealand and Abu Dhabi, and I think that reflects an outlook that differentiates us.
How have you adapted as a business to the Covid-19 pandemic?
Matt Sanders: Fundamentally, we had to adapt, and adapting is one of the things that Walkers does well. We adopted a virtual marketing strategy, including offering a lot more client resource, education and training via webinar platforms and virtual catch-ups. We have also ramped up our content marketing, particularly in the area of trends and market commentary, because there was a market-wide gap there in terms of a lot of informal, casual conversations not happening because our client audience was working from home.
That had the effect of levelling the playing field in a sense, and it became easier to get lawyers representing the different parts of our business on to a single call with client contacts and to make the case for our globally integrated offering across offshore laws.
What do you see as the outlook for offshore and onshore law firms over the next 12 months?
Jack Boldarin: We spend a lot of time alongside leading international law firms to provide integrated offshore and onshore support, and as such we are uniquely positioned to act as a barometer across the full legal market. In talking with onshore lawyers, we get a consistently upbeat message. There is cautious optimism as the pandemic enters the next phase and we progress towards some sort of new normality, albeit there are obvious changes to the market - with some sectors, such as logistics and health, being clear winners. We are well-positioned in that respect and also to support the much-heralded commodities super-cycle. ESG is, quite rightly, becoming front and centre in some industries where it had previously been backstage. From our perspective, there is much to be optimistic about - we continue growing significantly in terms of headcount, market share and visibility, and we expect to continue to build on that.
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