Having been with Eversheds in the United Kingdom for twenty-one years, Ian Gray has participated in the many expansions the firm has made, including the one that gave rise to its current name following the merger between Eversheds LLP and the American firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan in February 2017. Leaders League crossed paths with this enthusiastic litigation lawyer at the IBA annual conference in Rome.
Leaders League. How would you define your carreer within Eversheds?
Ian Gray. I joined the UK business in 1997 as an associate and have since grown up within Eversheds. When I started it was a small law firm with around ten UK offices, and I was keen to see it develop. Eversheds has always been interested in growing on a global scale: we started to build a European network in the early 2000s, held an important merger in the Middle East in 2011 then took the decision to merge with Sutherland. Recent highlights also include opening offices in Dusseldorf and Luxembourg in August 2017 and in Moscow and St Petersburg in September 2017. Today, Eversheds Sutherland has 66 offices in 32 countries. Since I joined, there have been changes, challenges, adventures and ambitions every year, making my career particularly intense and exciting.
How long does it usually take between an initial approach and the closing of a merger?
Well… it depends! Merging with Sutherland only took us six months from start to finish, because we were clear about what we wanted, and the Americans were very clear about what they wanted! The merger with the firm in the Middle East took eighteen months because we simply needed more time.
What makes Eversheds Sutherland unique?
The most important thing for us is developing a common culture. My role as executive partner is to try to keep lawyers and partners close, by physically bring them together as often as possible. For example, we recently gathered all our partners ̶ about 720 from all around the world ̶ for a conference in New York. And we organize this type of meeting every year. The annual International Bar Association conference is also a good opportunity to get our lawyers together; this year in Rome we had a big gathering of lawyers who work with our clients around the world.
The merger between Eversheds LLP and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan took place roughly two years ago, what would you say have been the main difficulties since then?
Before the merger, some of our lawyers were used to partnering with American lawyers from other firms, so we had to change their habits by building trust on both sides of the Atlantic. To secure that, we put in place a strong and coherent leadership with a global executive committee (which I’m part of) made up of three Americans and three Europeans. We also made sure to strengthen cooperation between the different teams by appointing two co-heads for each practice area (nine in total); one American and one non-American, jointly responsible for the growth of their practice. Looking back over the past two years, I can honestly say the integration following the merger has been a success.
Norton Rose Fulbright, Eversheds Sutherland, Hogan Lovells, BCLP… many British and American firms have recently merged. Why do you think this is?
I believe what has mostly changed in recent years is the behaviour of clients; they are now buying legal services on a global basis. Five years ago, like many of the other UK firms, we could offer them legal solutions in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. At the time, our clients would say “that’s great” then they started to say; “it’s not enough anymore,” so we needed to adapt and grow globally. A good example I like to mention is Avis Budget; a company active in 140 countries. A few years ago, they were working with 637 individual law firms. They then realized it was not efficient because they needed in one way or another to manage each law firm, so they reduced this number to seven, stating: “from now on we want our seven firms to work closely together and deliver all our legal needs around the world.”
How do you think independent law firms will manage these changes?
I believe that most of them will be perfectly fine if they collaborate. This is what IBA is about: independent law firms collaborating with each other. Good independent firms will be fine, the very niche firm as well. It is those in-between ones that might suffer from this change in clients’ demands.
How did your lawyers react to the merger?
Very positively! Before the merger, we already had many American clients, we wanted more and identified that a strong US merger would help us to achieve this goal. Lawyers on both sides were happy to see their firms evolve in a way that could increase their opportunities.
And what about your clients’ reaction?
They reacted very positively too. Sutherland had a strong reputation for high quality work, so they thought it was a good move for Eversheds and were very happy about it.
How much emphasis is there on innovation within your firm?
For many years, we have been building a good reputation for innovation. In 2011, we launched on-demand flexible lawyering services for clients. We were one of the first firms to put this in place: that went well and we still do it! We also equipped our lawyers with technological tools and create applications to assist our clients. We created an application offering them legal guidance on employment and pension funds all over the world. Other significant examples include our application “Salt Shaker” providing up-to-date information for clients on what is going on regarding tax matters in North America. It even includes the application “pets of the month” on which clients can put their favorite pictures of animals, allowing them to stay in touch and develop a community feeling.
Interview by Camille Guével