The law firm leaders joining the global dots

 
Elizabeth Fournier

Baker & McKenzie’s jet-setting duo tell Elizabeth Fournier how they stay ahead

FOR A law firm that is less than 70 years old, Baker & McKenzie has an impressive global footprint. From humble beginnings at the hands of co-founders Russell Baker and John McKenzie in Chicago in 1949, the firm now employs more than 4,000 lawyers in 74 offices across the world – most recently toasting a tie-up in the UAE that added a Dubai office to its roster.

It’s during a stopover in London en route to the launch of that office that I manage to intercept Eduardo Leite – Baker & McKenzie’s global chairman – on one of his flying visits to the firm’s largest office, which opened in 1961.

“Two-thirds of the time I’m flying around,” Leite says. “I’m supposedly based in Chicago but I still keep my home in Brazil – now and then I stop by my dentist, and do the kind of things you keep in your former neighbourhood.”

The personable Brazilian, whose perfect English is delivered in a part-American part-Portuguese accent, has been jetting round the world as chair of the firm’s global executive committee since 2010, but insists he still enjoys the demanding schedule.

“I like the travelling – it gives me a very good notion of what is going on in the world,” he says. “I can have my feet on the ground when we’re making strategic decisions.”

Recently that’s meant a trip to Malaysia, a destination he sees as crucial to the future of the booming Islamic finance market.

“Kuala Lumpur wants to be a centre for Islamic finance, and it’s the perfect connection between our offices in Indonesia, the Middle East and London – which also wants to be at the centre,” Leite explains. “The rest of the world has not woken up to that opportunity – I don’t think Wall Street even thinks about it. It is a great opportunity for London and for us, because we can connect all the dots.”

Since last year, helping Leite connect those dots in London has been Paul Rawlinson, an intellectual property lawyer who took over as managing partner from 10-year veteran Gary Senior in July. Another Bakers lifer, Rawlinson has long been one of the firm’s top relationship managers, whose key clients have included L’Oreal, Unilever and Lancome. During his three-year term he will continue some of these roles, while also taking responsibility for strategic decisions concerning the London office’s 420 fee earners, and more than 700 total staff.

But despite his London remit, Rawlinson’s outlook is no less global than that of his Brazilian chairman.

“A lot of the FTSE growth is coming from outside the UK, so our clients are as interested in what’s going on in China and Russia as they are in their own back yard,” he says.

Those same clients also – often regardless of geography – have similar concerns, with uncertainty over regulation still topping the list of things that keep them awake at night.

The big two, according to Leite, are tax reform – specifically the US’s foreign account tax compliance act (Fatca), and the ongoing challenge of cyber security.

“Cyber security could have a huge impact on class action cases,” he says. “Imagine the liability if the privacy of all your customers was exposed.”

But looking closer to home, Rawlinson has more immediate concerns.

“London has an added focus on executive pay, which is a big reputational focus in the City. That’s not gone away and it affects most City organisations,” he says. “But on the flipside you have the exodus from France that is making the UK look like a haven, so we’re not in bad shape.”

CV EDUARDO LEITE
■ Attended University of Uruguay before studying law at the University of Sao Paulo and a masters at New York University

■ Joined Baker & McKenzie in 1979, focusing on energy, power and renewables, and project finance

■ Was made a partner at the firm in 1986

■ Chairman of the executive committee since 2010

■ Married with two daughters, and lives between Sao Paolo, Brazil and Chicago

CV PAUL RAWLINSON
■ Completed an undergraduate law degree at the University of Kent at Canterbury, followed by the Licence en droit at University of Paris XI

■ Joined Baker & McKenzie in 1986 and spent two years on secondment in the Hong Kong office before being named as a partner in the intellectual property team in 1995.

■ Served as global chair of the intellectual property practice between 2004 and 2010

■ Succeeded Gary Senior as London managing partner in July last year