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August 2014
Advantage K&L Gates Charlotte
By Barbara Fagan

K&L Gates LLP is a global law firm that currently has close to 2,000 lawyers in 48 offices, spanning five continents (26 U.S. offices, seven Asian offices, eight European offices, two Middle Eastern offices, four Australian offices and one South American office). The firm serves clients in key commercial and financial centers around the world.

 

With 35 major practice areas running the gamut of corporate, finance, litigation, intellectual property, real estate, policy and regulatory, financial services and energy, K&L Gates has the infrastructure, expertise and resources required by clients, regardless of size or industry.

 

In 2008, Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman LLP (“Kennedy Covington”) looked at K&L Gates as an ideal partner to transition into the 21st century. At the time, Kennedy Covington was a North Carolina-based firm of 200 attorneys with offices in Charlotte, Raleigh, Research Triangle Park and Rock Hill.

 

It combined with the international law firm that year, making it part of one of the largest and most dynamic law firms in the world. It was a statement that they knew where business was going—business was going global.

 

“The most important thing is to be where our clients need us,” says partner Michael Hawley. “Increasingly, we are representing companies transacting and operating globally. That international involvement is either intentional or because clients are drawn to it by their business dealings. Eventually, all businesses will have international exposure; it’s where business is going; it’s a natural evolution.”

 

“It made sense for us to be in a position to better serve our clients by having access to resources that we simply could not provide as a geographically-concentrated, middle market firm,” explains administrative partner Sean Jones. “Looking at how things were changing in our region, it just made sense to combine with K&L Gates.”

 

“We also were attracted to K&L Gates because our client base and areas of specialization aligned nicely with their platform,” explains Jones. Clients across the platform range from startups to Fortune 500 companies, and Carolina specialty practices in securities, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, employee benefits, corporate law and supporting areas blended well with the K&L Gates’ practice offerings.

 

K&L Gates itself has a storied past. To the base firm (Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, a Pittsburgh firm founded in 1946) were added many comparably situated and like-minded firms over the years. Those firms came from all across the U.S. and from many corners of the world.

 

Two of particular note were London-based Nicholson Graham (formed in 1858) and Seattle-based Preston Gates & Ellis (founded in 1883), the latter carrying the name of William H. Gates, Sr., the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

 

After several name changes, the firm concluded that its brand going forward would be best represented by the straightforward K&L Gates, proudly displayed at global offices all around the globe.

 

Acquiring Expertise

 

While K&L Gates is a relatively new brand, it is already receiving wide recognition. In 2013, Mergers & Acquisitions magazine named K&L Gates Law Firm of the Year.

 

For the last three years, the firm was named to the Global 20 by Law360, citing it as one of the 20 law firms with the greatest global reach. And in 2012, K&L Gates was named one of America’s Best Corporate Law Firms by Corporate Board Member Magazine, in association with FTI Consulting, Inc.

 

K&L Gates’ client service was also recognized among the top 10 in BTI Consulting Group’s Client Relationship Scorecard; and for the fourth consecutive year, the firm was among the top two law firms for first tier rankings in the 2014 U.S. News Best Lawyers survey of the Best Law Firms.

 

Recognition has also gone to K&L Gates’ Chairman and Global Managing Partner Peter J. Kalis. The American Lawyer identified Kalis as one of the 50 most influential innovators in the global legal industry in the last 50 years, and The National Law Journal included him on its inaugural list of the top 50 legal business trailblazers and pioneers.

 

Kalis, a Rhodes Scholar who received his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University and served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal while attending there, has been an industry firebrand, often shaking up the status quo, and an outspoken advocate of innovation.

 

One big differentiator for K&L Gates is their embrace of technology. “Technology has always been part of our corporate culture,” explains Jones, “but with K&L Gates, it’s been taken to a new level. We have to be on the cutting edge of technology to seamlessly operate 48 offices around the globe.”

 

“K&L Gates is fully integrated,” confirmed Hawley. “It’s one firm, one partnership, and we use technology to connect with our partners and our clients, no matter where they are in the world. Technology is a huge driver for us.”

 

The firm’s rapid global expansion has also distinguished it from competitors, but Kalis’ most innovative—and controversial within the industry—move yet has been his push towards financial transparency.

 

When Kalis released the firm’s 2012 financial results in February 2013 (prepared to Securities and Exchange Commission reporting standards), it was the first time ever a U.S. law firm had disclosed its financial standing in such detail.

 

U.S. law firms, as private partnerships, are not required to publicly disclose their financial information, leaving industry publications with only voluntarily submitted surveys as the primary indicator of a firm’s financial health..

 

“Transparency makes an organization better,” maintains Kalis, “because it informs and empowers our clients and stakeholders, requires organizations to run themselves responsibly in real time, and discourages firms from tossing the dice into an uncertain future.”

 

Transparency and Innovation

 

Transparency and innovation are so important to the K&L Gates brand that the concepts are reflected across the globe in their office design. Each of the 48 offices is uniformly sleek, gleaming, white and minimalist.

 

The Charlotte office, which occupies the top floors of The Hearst Tower, offers broad views of downtown Charlotte through the distinctive glass triangles that crown the Tower. The office lobby and meeting and conference rooms are light, bright and spacious in the characteristic design of the brand.

 

In a blend of technology and design, digital screens dominate an entire wall of one conference room in the Charlotte office, facilitating video conferences, seminars and webinars.

 

“Thought leadership on cutting edge issues is very important to us,” says Jones. “That technology enables to us distribute, broadly and quickly, innovative information on those issues, whether through our webcasts, newsletter postings or video conferences. Partners are also frequent speakers at professional and community events.”

 

Thought leadership is stressed worldwide at K&L Gates. In June, a partner from K&L Gates’ Frankfurt, Germany, office, Mathias Schulze Steinen, was in Charlotte to speak at a global conference and to meet with a prospective client considering expansion into Germany.

 

Schulze Steinen is a regular visitor to the Carolinas and works with many businesses in the area. Noting the large presence of German companies in Charlotte and the Carolinas, Schulze Steinen remarks, “There is a very close relationship between the Carolinas and Germany. Germans like doing business here. Lots of German companies have their U.S. headquarters here in the Carolinas.

 

“Charlotte has direct flights to and from Germany and the workforce in the Carolinas is well educated and has a good skill set. This is something German companies very much appreciate. We need to be here, on a regular basis, connecting the dots between German companies with their operations in the U.S. and Carolinas companies doing business in Europe.”

 

Strategic Partnerships

 

Strategic partnerships is a strong theme in the K&L Gates Charlotte office. “We represent businesses,” says Hawley. “While we’re not business consultants, we regularly connect our clients with the right resources.

 

“One of the great benefits of a substantial platform like ours is that we can connect those dots for people. We can put a company in contact with others, and with experts, so they can find out if their product or idea is viable. If it is, we can help them with the legal logistics required to implement their strategy.

 

“The magic of the K&L Gates platform is that now we have colleagues like Mathias Schulze Steinen in places like Frankfurt. If someone comes to us with a product they’d like to market in Germany or Europe, we can engage Mathias to advise on the legal aspects. On the flipside, we can also do the same for a client of Mathias’ coming into the U.S. That ability extends throughout all of our 48 offices.

 

“We feel the Carolinas are an attractive place to enter the U.S. market—the cost of doing business, the quality of life, the level of sophistication here create an impressive package—but if a client prefers the West Coast, we can connect them with our office in Palo Alto or San Francisco. With K&L Gates we have resources to help a company no matter where their needs might be.”

 

This interaction between offices is another hallmark of the integration of K&L Gates. In 2013, 466 of their 500 largest clients used lawyers in two or more K&L Gates’ offices and 15 of their 20 largest clients used lawyers in 10 or more offices. “There are built-in synergies associated with this sort of work flow across offices,” states Jones.

 

The Charlotte office fosters inter-office connections through good, old fashioned Southern hospitality. “We have a reception every year for our colleagues coming into the U.S. for the annual K&L Gates partners’ meeting,” explains Hawley.

 

“We call it the International Connections Reception because we literally have partners from all over the globe attending. We take care of people very well here in the Carolinas—we feed them lots of barbecue, hush puppies and banana pudding—stuff that they’ve never had before,” he grins. “They enjoy it and are impressed with what they find here in the Carolinas, especially the sophistication of the markets.”

 

America’s Back in the Game

 

Jan Johnson, business development manager for the Charlotte office, points out, “The K&L Gates’ global platform provides a tremendous resource to our clients. For instance, if a client needs expertise in trade regulations, we’ve got more than 190 lawyers in our Washington, D.C., office and several of them are heavily involved in trade issues.

 

“The great thing is that no matter the question, no matter the need, no matter where in the world, we have someone somewhere who can answer that question or provide the service that client needs,” she adds.

 

“There are two ways a company can enter another country,” explains Hawley. “It can start an operation from scratch, or it can buy an existing business in that country. Activity in both areas is rebounding nicely. Our M&A (mergers and acquisitions) practice is a good indicator of economic growth, and we’ve seen solid improvement in M&A transactions going both ways; European and Asian companies buying American companies, and vice versa.”

 

Schulze Steinen agrees with the predictions of a growing U.S. economy, “America’s back in the game. That’s what we think in Europe,” he says.

 

“There’s never been a better time for global business in Charlotte,” says Hawley. “Trade between the Carolinas and other countries is about to explode. Our job is to provide the legal resources needed to support that growth, across our global footprint.”

 

“We’re the same lawyers, doing the same things as we’ve always done, we’re just doing them with a bigger platform and with a larger resource base,” Hawley concludes.

 

“For 50 years we’ve been assisting Carolinas-based companies with their legal needs,” says Jones. “That’s always been, and is still, the bread and butter of, what we do. With the K&L platform, we just have more resources to offer clients now. It’s about being local, but thinking globally.”

Barbara Fagan is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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