Originally published in Legal 500's Fivehundred Magazine, November 2019.
Office Managing Partner, Jeff Kirk, recently spoke to Legal 500 about life at Appleby and relocating offshore.
What do you do differently from other offshore firms?
Our clients have always been at the core of our business and we believe that our global model helps support them, when they need us the most. Our ability, where required, to draw on specialist expertise from our wider local and global network of practices to assist on individual client matters, or to resource larger matters with fee earners from other offices, enables us to consistently provide a strong and experienced team for our clients. We pride ourselves on our cross-jurisdictional collaborative approach that you may not see at other offshore law firms.
Our jurisdictional footprint including jurisdictions such as Mauritius, Isle of Man and Seychelles together with the more traditional offshore financial centres based in the Channel Islands and Overseas Dependent Territories of the UK give us a unique jurisdictional offering.
We also understand that the offshore and regulatory markets are changing and clients need information that is accessible and easy to digest. Economic substance is an excellent example of this, where regulatory changes are continuing to be implemented across a number of our jurisdictions. As well as sending client communications and delivering presentations and talks to educate them on these new requirements, we also developed an Online Economic Substance Entity Classification Questionnaire, which offers clear and concise guidance through the economic substance regimes of Bermuda, BVI, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey. In the first month alone, over 1,500 clients accessed our tool from over 70 countries.
What is your firm's approach to competition between offshore jurisdictions?
At Appleby, we don't view the different offshore jurisdictions as being in competition with one another. Our main focus is our client's needs. Our global presence enables us to provide comprehensive legal advice at the times most critical to them. This includes providing British Virgin Islands (BVI) law advice to clients in the Asian, North and South American, Caribbean and European time zones, from our BVI, Cayman, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Jersey and Isle of Man offices.
In addition, thanks to our local presence in the jurisdictions of Seychelles and Mauritius, we are able to offer advice on group structures involving companies incorporated or operating in these two Indian Ocean jurisdictions. This ability is increasingly attractive to clients in Mainland China, and puts us in a market leading position in the offshore capital markets space. We are also the only offshore law firm operating in each of the Crown Dependencies meaning the team are able to provide joined up support for our large banking and institutional clients across all three jurisdictions. So rather than seeing each offshore jurisdiction as competition, we believe our extensive offshore global network is one of our greatest collective strengths.
What does innovation mean to you and how can firms be better at it?
Firms must be adaptable and responsive to their client's needs; this includes changing processes and procedures and also having robust contingency plans in place for when the unexpected happens.
During Hurricane Irma for example, we had crisis management plans in place before this terrible storm struck. First and foremost we prioritised ensuring our colleagues and their families in the BVI were safe and once we were certain of this we were able to turn our attention to ensuring our business continued to operate with minimal disruption to our clients. Corporate and Dispute Resolution Partners and associates were relocated to other jurisdictions during and after the storm and our business continuity plan was executed successfully, with client enquiries and communications to our BVI office being handled via our international network of offices, across a number of time zones. We also have numerous BVI qualified lawyers in other Appleby offices (including the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Isle of Man and Hong Kong). These lawyers have complete access to our BVI systems and were able to deal with existing matters and new instructions.
In addition we are consistently innovative in our thinking with regard to both the services we provide and the sectors that we cover. For example, we led the way amongst the offshore firms by establishing a Global Technology and Innovation (T&I) Working Group, made up of colleagues with a range of T&I specialisms to help support clients across a broad range of emerging technologies. The global group is recognised as a leading offshore practice in this fast moving sector.
How does your firm handle technology and data security? Has this become even more important following recent law firms hacks?
Information security is a part of our culture which emanates from the leadership team across the entire ambit of our whole business. In 2017 we appointed a Head of Information Security who oversees security across our network and is a recognised leader in this field.
Our Information Security systems and protocols are not limited to IT security but extend to facilities and individual security measures and our Information Security Team has helped us to achieve ISO27001 accreditation. The changes and security enhancements that we have implemented and the ISO27001 accreditation, are developments that we are incredibly proud of and we have communicated this to our clients.
Our systems have been reviewed and tested by two international cyber security teams. It is now a common feature for law firms to have their systems tested by external cyber teams. However, we are not aware of any competitor law firm having undertaken this testing twice by separate cyber security teams. This level of investment is indicative of our commitment and responsibility in securing our clients' data.
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you? And, is D&I more difficult offshore?
Our colleagues represent a wide range of nationalities, demographics, races, religions and cultures. With a global network spanning ten jurisdictions, we are an inherently diverse business and this is reflected at all levels, with colleagues of more than 30 nationalities globally. We pride ourselves on our inclusive approach which ultimately offers significant benefits to both our colleagues and our clients through improved organisational agility and local knowledge.
Women also make up more than half of the global Appleby team. Our diverse culture is also reflected in our leadership team in which a number of female colleagues together with colleagues from different ethnicities and orientations hold key leadership positions. Half of our managing partner roles and Directorships are held by women.
Gender is of course, only one measure of diversity and we take great care to ensure that all colleagues feel valued as individuals, with an equal opportunity to contribute.
What should young lawyers know about working Offshore, compared to Onshore?
It is important to emphasise to young lawyers that are considering making a move offshore that whilst such a move may result in a healthier work-life balance, the demands and work ethic in an offshore firm are often as demanding as a leading onshore law firm. A number of our qualified lawyers include those who have experience working in onshore financial centres and accordingly understand the demands faced by clients and intermediaries. As we work regularly alongside onshore law firms based in all the major financial centres including London, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, this is a further benefit for our clients.
The benefits of a reduced work commute or the ability to take an early morning sea swim or surf before work must be balanced with the understanding that the offshore centres' infrastructure and cultural entertainment facilities will not rival that found in London or Hong Kong.
It is important for any candidates considering making a move offshore to thoroughly research the jurisdiction that they are contemplating moving to. Challenges related to, for instance, a lack of public transport and therefore the need to be a licensed driver; travel distances and time and cost it takes in travelling to the UK or other home jurisdictions; or infrastructure challenges such as WIFI connectivity, occasional intermittent power and the possibility of hurricanes in the Caribbean offshore centres must be recognised and accepted.
Notwithstanding these challenges, we see ever greater numbers of young onshore lawyers who have made the move offshore electing to remain offshore on a permanent basis. My belief is that this growth is driven by the quality, complexity and sophistication of the work coupled with the benefits of work-life balance, working in smaller teams with greater levels of interaction amongst all team members and greater autonomy and responsibility on the individual lawyer.
Offshore financial centres provide a crucial role in cross-border investment, finance and trade activities and will continue to do so in the future. This will in turn continue to require bright, technically strong and driven lawyers to service client needs in these types of transactions and corporate and commercial work.