Coudert Brothers' Global Employment And Labor Practice Group: A Multi-Jurisdictional Practice

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Would you tell us about the global employment and labor practice at Coudert?

Gay: It is an exciting practice with one of the widest geographic presences for a global firm, with dedicated practitioners in the field of labor and employment law in thirteen offices across four continents. We have extensive experience across the entire spectrum of employment law issues. When I call upon one of our offices in Germany with a problem to consider, the response is from a lawyer admitted to practice in Germany and focussed on the employment and labor laws of that jurisdiction. That is true of most of our overseas offices.

Editor: Would you describe your practice today and convey to our readers how this differs from your prior professional life?

Gay: Prior to joining Coudert, I represented companies that were global in nature, but most of them came to me with issues relating to U.S. law. While I still represent clients in matters relating to employment litigation and labor issues, Coudert is an international law firm, perhaps the international law firm, and I find that, in addition to my U.S. litigation work, many of the issues I deal with have a multi-jurisdictional dimension. For example, I am dealing with a client wishing to analyze the functions of its senior staff and to undertake a reorganization of senior management. This entails an examination of the laws prevailing in all of the jurisdictions in which they have operations. Another client is involved in a merger and acquisition transaction that involves layoffs in certain of its departments. We must analyze the severance requirements in a number of jurisdictions and, of course, the challenge lies in the fact that the client needs answers fairly quickly. In another situation I am dealing with an employment agreement which requires coordinating the requirements of both French and American law. Fortunately, the resources necessary to deal with the demands are available.

Editor: How do you go about staffing these matters?

Gay: That is one of the unique aspects of Coudert. Because we have offices in a variety of jurisdictions, I am in a position to develop an analysis of a specific problem and then reach out to a number of different offices - and even different practice groups, both here and overseas - for comments and a review of solutions. I am able to draw upon Coudert's resources both horizontally and vertically in developing my report to the client. Given the depth of expertise at Coudert, and the sheer number of jurisdictions in which the firm is engaged in practice, the kinds of staffing problem that most firms encounter simply do not appear here.

Editor: How do you handle conflicting rules from different jurisdictions?

Gay: We must advise the client as to the conflict, of course. In the global arena, there are things that are permitted in one jurisdiction and not in another, and it is particularly important for American companies to be aware of this because, in the employment and labor law area, so many things that we take for granted under U.S. law are simply impermissible elsewhere. The termination at will doctrine, for example, is not the rule in most other jurisdictions. An awareness of that fact might be crucial to a merger or acquisition deal abroad.

Editor: Can you give us some idea of how your practice group functions in the multi-jurisdictional global economy?

Gay: A unique advantage of Coudert is its significant geographic placement coupled with the fact that we have practitioners seasoned in the practice of labor and employment law who are from those jurisdictions. We enhance that fact with frequent interaction among the members of the practice which allows the development of respect and appreciation of our varied skills. This enables us to develop respect for the abilities of our attorneys in other offices and therefore permits us to better guide and assist our clients.

Editor: How do you build these relationships?

Gay: We have global conference calls on a fairly regular basis. Practice group meetings take place on an occasional basis, and we have firm-wide partnership meetings at which the practice groups can assemble on their own. It is really essential in an organization as diverse as Coudert Brothers for people to get to know each other. Not only does the law differ from one jurisdiction to the next, but the ways in which the law is administered, the ways in which lawyers relate to their clients and the ways issues play out differ as well. Someone in my position must have some familiarity with all of these things, if he or she is going to be able to ask the right questions. Only through personal interaction, in my view, are these relationships built.

Editor: Would you tell us about the principal challenges you have found in the global arena?

Gay: One of the most interesting aspects of my area of practice consists of the fact that an American employee has far fewer rights than most of his counterparts overseas. There are things that can be done in the U.S. - and that are taken as a matter of course here - that fill our European colleagues with absolute dismay. One challenge, then, and not the least of them, lies in recognizing and respecting the many cultural differences that you find in the application of employment and labor law across the world. I mentioned the American concept of termination at will. Our U.S. clients are comfortable with it and somewhat taken aback to learn what they must go through to terminate an employee in most other jurisdictions. By the same token, our foreign clients conducting operations in the U.S. are very uncomfortable with the prevalent claims of discrimination that employees file against them in the U.S. Cultural differences run both ways.

Editor: Are you seeking to grow your practice group?

Gay: We are looking to establish ourselves as the premier source of assistance to corporations with regards to employment and labor law issues on a global basis. Accordingly, we are always on the lookout for attorneys with the ability to help us achieve this goal.

Editor: How do you go about doing that?

Gay: Nothing beats personal relationships. The best way to add people to your group is to get to know them. I have always attended conferences and seminars, and that is a wonderful source of talent. Many of the people you meet in these sessions are seasoned attorneys with established reputations in the field. Over the course of a career you meet quite a number of the top people in your field, and they often form an important network for you. If a particular person is not available, there is a pretty good chance that he or she will know of someone who is.

We also recruit recent graduates and young associates and train them. Part of that training is the education of the associates relative to the appreciation of not only the legal differences among the different jurisdictions, but among the cultural factors that come into play. The associates have the opportunity to work on issues that involve questions raised by clients which demand analysis of laws of multiple jurisdictions. Through this training we are able to develop practitioners who understand how to address global labor and employment issues.

Editor: Would you tell us how you provide clients with updates in labor law?

Gay: We issue a quarterly newsletter in which we cover labor and employment issues in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The newsletters will also have an immigration component because it is an important issue for many of the firm's clients. The newsletter is to be sent to anyone we believe may have an interest in these matters, including clients, prospective clients and others with whom we may be dealing. In addition to the newsletter, we are also issuing e-alerts, which address issues arising anywhere in the world as and when they arise. This is to be a one- or two-page memorandum directed to the firm's clients and friends and constitutes a timely commentary or release on matters that may be of concern to them. Providing service to the firm's clients is much more than simply responding to the issues that they happen to bring in the door.

Editor: Having a practice group that is able to disseminate specialized employment and labor law information to international clients must make Coudert very attractive to a variety of corporations and international organizations.

Gay: I certainly hope so. The image we seek to project is one of a whole array of different practice groups and disciplines working together to provide the best possible service to the firm's clients. Various practice groups use our group as a partner in their marketing efforts, and we reciprocate. The different practice groups also engage in cross-marketing.

Editor: You have been with Coudert for almost a year, and you are one of the few minority attorneys who head a practice group at a prominent firm. Can you comment on this?

Gay: I believe corporate America is paying increasing attention to diversity. Companies are aware of, and appreciate, the value that a diverse team brings to the analysis of an issue. Coudert is a little further along in the diversity evolution. Where most major firms have junior associates who are minorities working on matters, there are senior associates here. This is something that resonates well with our clients. They appreciate the fact that minorities are working on their issues and, of course, as the number of minority general counsel increase, the presence of a minority practice group head is a definite plus for the firm.

Editor: Would you tell our readers something about your background and experience?

Gay: I started my career working with the National Labor Relations Board in New York. I left there to become in-house labor and employment counsel for a hospital. I spent 18 years in my own firm servicing a group of very good clients, several of whom are still with me. I also spent three years as a commissioner of the New York State Civil Service Commission. With respect to organizational activities, I am an original board member of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and the National Employment Law Council, which is a consortium of Black, Hispanic and Asian attorneys throughout the U.S. whose practices are dedicated to representing corporate entities with respect to labor and employment matters. Diversity is an important part of my landscape.