Henry Nassau (Dechert) : “Even before I became CEO, I was a strong advocate of building a client-team approach”
Dechert’s newly elected CEO Henry Nassau, who began his term in July 2016, talks to Leaders League about his future plans, the firm’s organizational structure and how relationships can grow stronger by building a client-team approach.
Leaders League. Under your leadership, what are Dechert’s main priorities?
Henry Nassau. I wake up every morning and ask myself seven questions: How do I make my partners, associates and work colleagues as successful as they can be? How do we profitably grow the firm’s revenue and size? How do we create a collaborative culture where people across different practice groups with different nationalities and genders can come together in a conference room, without charging a client, and discuss matters in order to reap the benefits of multiple perspectives? How do we make the associate experience as rewarding as we can and continue to offer them the most diverse and challenging work experience possible? How do I, in my role, handle associates or partners who are not meeting our high performance culture? How do we continue to instill in our attorneys a client-focused, commercial attitude whereby our attorneys are valued for their business acumen as much as their technical legal knowledge? And as importantly as any of the first six, how do I make sure that everyone is having fun?
Leaders League. What will your new role as CEO involve?
H.N. I still plan to practice law. There are a few client relationships that I hope to continue. Although, I will not be doing the day to day work, I plan to be in constant contact with the clients and understand what they are doing. In addition to this, I will be responsible for the careful monitoring of financial metrics and the overall performance of the firm, by reflecting on the seven factors just mentioned, and in what ways we can improve. Finally, I plan to focus on a number of smaller non-US offices in order to bolster their size.
Leaders League. How do you ensure that the clients and legal teams at Dechert are sustaining trusting relationships with each other?
H.N. Even before I became CEO, I was a strong advocate of building a client-team approach where once a month for our significant clients, partners and associates come together in a conference room for an hour, enjoy food and go around the table to talk about what we are doing for the client. The goals are to make sure everyone is aware of what each of us are doing so in case there are any questions, we can all be responsive to the client. The second goal is to have the benefit of listening to different perspectives regardless of gender, nationality, practice group etc. The third reason we do this is because I’m a big believer in forcing people to stand up and speak in front of others so that everybody, no matter how junior or senior, has to participate in the meeting. This has proven to be a good way of getting people to identify more with their clients and collaborate in our advice.
Leaders League. How have relationships between law firms and clients changed?
H.N. You may be surprised by my answer and I can only give you an answer that is a by-product of my experience. I do not think that the relationships between law firms and clients have changed materially during the 30 years I have practiced law. The concept still remains that when a client has a problem, we aim to be the first people they think of when they want to talk to someone. That is how it was when I started in 1979 and that is still how it is today. Although, one must consider how both lawyers and clients have gotten wildly sophisticated. There still are basic principles that lawyers must exhibit, such as developing a deep knowledge of their clients, a deep sense of trust with their clients, and providing value for your fees. From the client’s perspective they too want to have someone they can trust and who is with them on good days and bad days. The trusting dialogue has to start and never end.
Leaders League. Since the financial crisis, corporate clients have become more cost-sensitive as there is ongoing pressure on the pricing of law firms. Do you agree with this observation?
H.N. I think there has always been pressure on the fees that law firms charge but if you have a good relationship with the client and provide good advice, you can always get to a good resolution where both sides feel fine about the fees. So yes, there is lots of pressure, particularly from very large clients, and lots of new competitors in the space outside of the US because now there are many accounting firms and low cost providers. The global economy is growing larger and stronger, so it’s important for firms to focus on the areas where they have real expertise. In our case, we have five or six practice areas we think we are really good at on a global basis. Therefore, we are confident in our ability to handle all issues within those frameworks – and if we do this then the advice we give will be valued.
Leaders League. What kind of future does Dechert see in the Asian market in the coming years?
H.N. Asia is a tough market, a large market; there you have the competing pressure of every magic circle and all the top American firms. You have incredibly sophisticated domestic firms growing within those countries. That being said, it is still a huge part of the global economy and it is crucial we have a presence in Asia to support our clients’ global growth strategies. We are very pleased with how things are going in Hong Kong and Singapore. We plan to build up our presence in Beijing and we are also now looking at Shanghai. That’s not to say were going to go send a hundred lawyers there, but Asia has too big a share of global GDP to not be part of.
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