It's 31 December 1999 and several people are praying that the millennium bug won’t cause the world as we know it to grind to a halt. Simon Levine is one of them, because the intellectual property lawyer is on call in case clients suddenly find their systems rendered unusable and he’s already a couple of pints into his night.
Fortunately for Levine, who is now global co-chief executive of DLA Piper, he wasn’t required to give any groundbreaking insights that evening because the fears were never realised, and perhaps that’s why he thinks the City won’t be plunged into panic come 24 June, regardless of which way the EU referendum vote goes.
“I’ve been at law firms now for nearly 30 years and, in that time, I’ve not come across a single thing that has happened that has required an urgent, cataclysmic response by a whole profession the next day,” he said.
A holistic viewpoint
He describes DLA Piper as a “full-service commercial” firm with a “broad geographical spread”, which may leave some to believe that maybe Levine – who does not share how he is voting and points out that DLA Piper has not gone on the record as a firm to support either Remain or Leave – should perhaps be a little bit more nervous about the uncertainty over Britain’s future in the EU.
However, Levine also describes it as a firm that is more focused on what the client needs in bigger picture terms and providing them with a holistic range of skills, rather than focusing on being tax specialists or litigation gurus.
This outlook is what originally attracted him to the firm, and, even today, the firm is more split based on the industries its lawyers are experienced in rather than which module of their degree they preferred.
“If you think about it from a client’s perspective, clients don’t really come to a law firm and say I want a corporate lawyer, or a litigator, or an intellectual property lawyer,” Levine explains. “They have a problem, or a deal they want doing or something they need some assistance with and they want lawyers who have the right level of technical expertise and commercial ability to advise them.”
Nameplate on the door
This holistic take on what clients need also governs his view on what it means to be an international firm. “It’s not just a question about having offices. It’s a question of having lawyers in different jurisdictions who work together as one team to give something of value to our clients,” he says.
However, maybe it is Levine’s belief that being an international law firm depends on building a community and involves more than just opening up some offices overseas and “sticking your nameplate on the door” leads him to be slightly more relaxed than expected about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.
“At the end of the day, if there is a Brexit, we will deal with it,” he said. “We’re clearly in a position to deal with it and we’ll get on. We won’t be any less of an international or global law firm.”