New office, organic growth and a modest forecast
In a time of political uncertainty for Britain it seems almost surprising for companies to be undergoing expansion. After speaking with Chris Grieveson, the managing partner of the Wikborg Rein London office, it is apparent that Brexit will not be a problem for Wikborg Rein in London and that the Norwegian approach to corporate culture has been beneficial for Wikborg Rein's success within the country.
In my opinion everyone in Europe are far more scared of Brexit than people here in London. We are bored with it. It’s a bit like being pregnant. You either are, or you are not, comments Chris.
The new London offices on Cannon Street represent the vast growth of Wikborg Rein's position in London since its arrival 31 years ago. This growth has seen a move away from a sole focus on Norwegian Law and Norwegian clients, towards a more diverse set of lawyers working with clients from all over the world.
– We are becoming more established as a brand in London, where we have reached a critical mass and are handling bigger cases making us more visible, Chris explains.
Chairman Geir Sviggum when interviewed by Finansavisen, a Norwegian financial daily, also commented on the progress of the London branch
– We are doing very well in London and the London office is our largest and leading office in our international strategy.
The new London office opened September 2018 to facilitate the growth of the company in London. In 2010, the London office counted 8 lawyers. Now there is about 30 lawyers in the office, with the aim of increasing the total amount to 35 by 2020. Chris sees Wikborg Rein's growth in London as a means to become more competitive against some of the top English law firms.
– Our biggest competitors are primarily English law firms. We regularly sit across the table or the courtroom from those firms with a serious pedigree in shipping or indeed increasingly the magic and silver circle firms.
This growth has seen a transition in Wikborg Rein's position in London.
– We are no longer considered as a shipping boutique law firm. We are part of Norway's largest law firm which will bring us some high class clients and serious work which our London team are more than capable of doing, Chris explains.
The Norwegian 'just-do-it attitude':
The London office has established a more independent position over the last years, however, there still remains a strong historical Norwegian presence throughout the office. The new office has used aspects of design from the new office in Oslo including articles of the Norwegian constitution on the glass walls of the offices.
– It is a good manifestation of the Norwegianness of the firm, it reminds everybody the whole time, of who we are; what is running through the core of the firm is also running through the core of the building, that we are a Norwegian organisation. It is like the stamp in a stick of rock. In that respect it is a good metaphor for us, Chris says.
The cultural differences between the Norwegian and British law firms has been a benefit in terms of corporate culture. Chris believes that these differences certainly make us stand out from the British law firms.
– The combination of Norwegian and British lawyers has been a benefit to the company. Norwegian lawyers are much more diverse in how they work in comparison to English lawyers who are far more specialised.
Chris reckons that the Norwegian approach has been beneficial for relationships with international clients and the range of work the London office undertakes.
– I believe our clients see us much more as trusted advisors, not just purely legal advisors on one particular topic. Our Norwegian clients open up about their business, telling us their goals, making it easier for us to fashion our advice. I find we have a much more commercial insight working with clients in this way at Wikborg Rein than I have seen in other firms in the past.
Brexit and Wikborg Rein
Whilst many European and Norwegian firms await Brexit and its outcome Chris does not believe that people will stop coming to London for dispute work after Brexit. The British economy has grown well in comparison with the rest of Europe despite Brexit. Problems may arise if a deal is not sorted out soon but Chris does not believe the UK will fall out of the Lugano Treaty regime, which makes English court judgments reciprocally enforceable all round Europe
– I think there could be a big surge of work when all is agreed upon and people know what Brexit means. People will want to know what that deal means for them. Particularly the offshore sector, says Chris.
Currently, clients are not asking questions regarding the issue. Chris does not believe there will be a new referendum regarding Brexit. But if Brexit is here to stay, what will it mean for the future of Wikborg Rein in London?
– Whatever happens around Brexit it will create new opportunities and an increased need for lawyers, Geir Sviggum comments to Finansavisen.
Chris agrees with his Norwegian colleague.
– People – usually foreign lawyers in up and coming arbitration jurisdictions say Brexit could lead to a drop in cases coming to London. I think it is most unlikely English judgments and arbitration awards will cease to be enforceable in Europe post Brexit – so I do not see the problem arising, it is other jurisdictions trying to make something out of a bit of uncertainty. May be we have a big sales job ahead of us, to explain London will be very much still open for business even post Brexit. Wikborg Rein certainly will be!