The team at Laurence Simons Search, Clare Beresford CEO and Sven Laacks Director, talk with Craig Budner*, Global Strategic Growth Partner at K&L Gates’ about what they are seeing and doing during the Covid-19 crisis.
*Budner, qualified in 1990 and has been a Partner at K&L Gates since the firm he joined in 1990 (Hughes & Luce) merged with K&L Gates in 2008. He focuses on Commercial Litigation and Arbitration and was recently awarded “Lawyer of the Year” for Litigation – Banking & Finance by www.bestlawyers.com.
Laurence Simons Search (LSS): Thank you Craig for taking the time to talk to us about the current situation (Covid-19) and what recent changes and upcoming tasks you are going through - for you as partner and more generally as a firm. So, how are you doing in the U.S?
Craig Budner (CB): With pleasure…and thank you, my family and I are well.
At K&L Gates, we are doing quite well. We are in a comfortable situation and fortunate position - we are a firm where there is no debt. Financing through debt can cause issues for any company in difficult times and particularly during a downturn. We have invested a lot of time and money into our IT architecture and infrastructure over the last couple of years so we were fortunate that everything was ready to go for a situation like this.
What has been funny to see is people now using the video function of our IT system, which has been in place for a long time. Most people would never use this option, but it seems we are now okay to push the video button on our phones and see each other.
Many of our offices in Asia are starting to go back to business, checking the situation constantly and under strict protocols. Many things will be questioned now, and I am not expecting, we will go back to the old normal.
LSS: Did Covid-19 impact on your current strategy?
CB: There isn’t a yes or a no for this question. Sure, there are areas of our business which have had a reasonable impact from the current crisis but there are still industry sectors like manufacturing, technology and healthcare which are doing well and I am proud to see a lot of our partners acting smart to support their clients. They have been brilliant and nimble adapting to the situation and generating new business, where they lost other projects. We are an investment-oriented firm and have made strategic decisions in an attempt to have a positive multi-generational impact.
Before Covid-19 we were looking at our real estate. We had started reducing footprints - to share offices, however there will always be a lag in terms of real estate because of our leases. As leases come up we look at what will be the future requirements of our business. We can see that trends in what technology offers and flexible working, whether working from home or where ever you choose to be, are unfolding.
We have had interesting developments over the last couple of weeks, too. Because the response to Covid-19 is highly regulated and legal, our clients and their GCs are very much in demand, looking for solutions and advice during the crisis. We created sector-related virtual round tables organised around common themes to help them and listen to the challenges and problems they are facing. It is fascinating to see these round tables, virtually sitting together at the same time and so many GCs attending. Round tables never happened this way before Covid-19 and we anticipate it may well stay this way when things go back to “normal”.
LSS: How are your clients doing? Are they asking you about “sharing the pain” like in post-financial crisis times?
CB: Our clients are experiencing what we see across the world. There are industry sectors - manufacturing, tech or healthcare where we see positive growth but in other sectors our clients are experiencing contraction and challenges. We remain there to help all our clients. Our lawyers must understand theses businesses as GCs are being put in the hot seat – “if we return to work how can we keep employees safe? What will those transitions look like? How can we access and control this risk?”
Regarding “sharing the pain” we started looking at this several years ago. Bart Gabler who ran an internal project to look at how we price became our manager for pricing and legal project management. We initiated a culture of change to teach our lawyers to be more consultative rather than offer purely legal solutions to our clients. A core element here is to understand what your client wants and to develop the project together by creating value for the project - not just solve a legal problem.
LSS: What would be one of your most important lessons for a future partner of the firm?
CB: Learn to listen to your client! Learn about them, learn about their business and bring the legal answer to your clients’ business issue – become a consultant by learning from each other’s different perspectives. Julian Treasure’s book “How to be Heard” should be compulsory for all young lawyers. The most persuasive lawyers learn that it is about learning AND listening. What is the right legal answer AND the right one in terms of that business’ needs.
LSS: Thank you very much, Craig. Stay safe!