Nixon Peabody's New Israeli Business Team: Servicing Telecommunications And Technology Clients In Israel And Beyond

Friday, October 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Shelowitz, you have a very interesting background as a member of both the Israeli bar and the New York bar.

Shelowitz: For the past seven years I lived in Israel and practiced, most recently, as General Counsel of Ceragon Networks, a Tel Aviv-based manufacturer of high capacity microwave telecommunications equipment which is used as a substitute for fiber optic cable. Ceragon is a NASDAQ-traded company and a foreign private issuer subject to Sarbanes-Oxley and other applicable U.S. securities laws. Ceragon sells to more than 50 countries around the world, so the international transactional work in which I was engaged was very extensive. In addition, I counseled all of the various departments and divisions of the company, including sales, operations, logistics, research and development and, of course, employment and labor law issues.

Prior to Ceragon, I served as in-house counsel with a company called Gilat Satellite Networks, which is also an Israeli-based NASDAQ-traded enterprise. Gilat is a manufacturer of satellite stations used for various applications, some of which were for point-of-sale transactions in retail operations in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Its clients include the U.S. Postal Service. Gilat manufactures equipment for telecommunications services in places - including much of Africa and South America - where there are no land lines for telephones. A pay phone with a satellite antenna provides people who have never seen a telephone the ability to make calls around the world.

Editor: As a matter of interest, is it possible to take the Israeli bar exam without having an Israeli law degree?

Shelowitz: Yes. Israel is among a number of countries which recognize certain American law school credentials. The Israeli Bar Association, which is the regulatory authority for the admission of lawyers in the country, offers different licensing examinations which depend on the amount of time a lawyer has practiced in a recognized and approved jurisdiction.

Editor: You are also the founder of the Association of Corporate Counsel - Israel. In light of this publication's readership, it would be very interesting to hear about the Association and its mission.

Shelowitz: The Association of Corporate Counsel - Israel is the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel - America. When I joined Gilat, I immediately recognized the considerable difference between practicing in a law firm and an in-house law department. I knew the law firm setting well, and I found the transition to being an in-house lawyer challenging. For one thing, the corporate counsel must communicate with the business people in a businesslike, efficient and practical manner. He or she is a member of the senior management team, not an outside professional called into a situation for a very specific purpose. In trying to meet this challenge I was fortunate in being able to call upon the New York chapter of ACCA. I thought it was an extremely valuable resource, and I quickly realized that there were other in-house lawyers in Israel who would derive great benefit from an Israeli chapter. After approval by ACCA headquarters in Washington, I established the chapter in 2000 and appointed its governing board. I believe it is one of the most active and vibrant chapters in the world. This past May we hosted a conference which drew some 150 participants, including lawyers from Beijing, Shanghai, Brussels, the UK, the U.S. and Israel. Each of its quarterly dinner events sees the participation of 50 to 60 lawyers from the top Israeli corporations. The sharing of experiences, from Israeli corporations and from other countries, is a major help to corporate counsel in Israel, and I take a great deal of pride in having launched this organization.

Editor: You have been involved in the Israeli telecommunications and technology industries for the past several years. Can you give us an overview of these sectors of the Israeli economy. And their international impact?

Shelowitz: Particularly with regard to wireless telecommunications, software, semiconductor, and satellite technology, Israel is a true world leader. I was engaged in the negotiation of contracts with the major telecommunications companies in North America, South America, Europe, India and East Asia. These companies look to Israeli technology for design efficiency and reliability, as well as for cost effectiveness. The Israeli model consists of designing products using state of the art technology and packaging it for practical application at a reasonable price. This results in the maximization of benefits for the customer.

The Israeli market for telecom products itself is very small. That meant that I was engaged in transactions all around the world. My work also entailed establishing subsidiary corporations, retaining employees, negotiating a transactional framework with a variety of local entities, and so on, dealing with a series of considerations very similar to the ones a U.S. business would face in attempting to penetrate the same global markets. And always within a budget and subject to a business plan.

Editor: You have just joined Nixon Peabody in New York to lead a new Israeli business team. For starters, what were the factors that went into your decision to join Nixon Peabody?

Shelowitz: This was a major decision for me. Moving from one country to another, making a new home and finding a professional platform where the cultural and service context were at the right comfort level, these are things that one does not do on a whim. I have known Nixon Peabody for more than eight years, first as an associate at the firm and then during my time at Ceragon, where Nixon Peabody served as outside U.S. counsel. I knew the firm, its culture and its dedication to the very highest quality of service, both from the inside and as a client. Concerning the latter, I was particularly appreciative of the firm's lean-staffing philosophy and outstanding service ethic. My work crossed just about every time zone in the world and entailed a 24-hour-a-day availability. Nixon Peabody was there to support me on that basis.

Editor: Please describe the team. How many people are involved? What kinds of disciplines and practice groups are represented?

Shelowitz: Currently the team is made up of approximately twenty senior lawyers at the firm, from a variety of backgrounds, including corporate, securities, intellectual property, U.S. government contracts, labor and employment, tax, biotech and other technology-oriented fields, and more. The idea of the practice group is to be able to offer Israeli companies doing business in the U.S. the services that will meet all of their needs. As a result, the group consists of people with a very wide range of practice specialties. At the same time, the group is going to deal with U.S. clients interested in doing business in Israel, and part of the value we will offer them concerns the cultural aspects of doing business in a foreign country. We will provide a comfort level, we believe, that may not be available elsewhere.

Editor: The team is going to represent Israeli clients doing business in the U.S. What types of clients? Please tell us about the services that the team will offer.

Shelowitz: Many of the companies are part of the Israeli telecom, technology and software industries. Our work, consequently, will be drawn upon our experience in that particular area. At the same time, however, there are a great many Israeli companies with subsidiaries in the U.S. which are not part of the Israeli high tech sector and which function just like an American enterprise, with a variety of employment and personnel issues, real estate, tax concerns and the issues that any business practice must address.

Editor: Will the team be supporting these clients in jurisdictions other than the U.S.?

Shelowitz: Yes. My own background, in addition to the international transactions, includes a considerable international component. At both Gilat and Ceragon, I was engaged in setting up subsidiaries in many different jurisdictions. Establishing a corporate environment, organizing, incorporating and registering a business enterprise, hiring personnel, addressing tax and benefit issues, leasing appropriate premises, and all of the other things that attend the initiation of business activity in a foreign setting can be done by our team. Whether the client is an Israeli corporation thinking about setting up in the U.S. or an American corporation starting out in Israel or elsewhere around the globe, we will be able to support them wherever they wish to be.

Editor: How about U.S. clients doing business in Israel? What kinds of activities do American corporations undertake there?

Shelowitz: Many major American companies are attracted to Israel. Cisco Systems just acquired an Israeli company within the past month. In addition, there are U.S. venture capital funds interested in investing in Israeli start-ups. U.S. food conglomerates invest in Israel. Research and development is a very strong sector in the Israel economy and is attracting significant investment from the U.S. and elsewhere. The Israeli technology sector is getting stronger and stronger and the variety of foreign investor interest is really quite astonishing.

Editor: Will you draw upon the services of other practice groups at Nixon Peabody, and other offices, in providing services to clients?

Shelowitz: Absolutely. We intend to draw upon the resources of a firm with 650 lawyers in 14 offices across the country. This is a very dynamic firm, and those resources are going to make our ability to service clients quite exceptional.

Editor: Please tell us about your expectations for the team. How do you see this project evolving over, say, the next five years?

Shelowitz: We anticipate that Nixon Peabody will be the firm of choice for Israeli companies doing business in the U.S. and American companies doing business in Israel as well as elsewhere. We do not expect to be the firm that deals in single transactions alone, but rather builds long-term relationships with its clients handling the full range of legal and compliance requirements for our clients, as partners in helping their businesses to succeed, as well as their corporate transactions. We possess a unique understanding of Israeli culture and Israeli expectations, and that, we believe, is going to be the key differentiator in our practice. We are able to communicate in both directions, to advise our Israeli clients how best to operate in the U.S., to help our American clients understand and operate within Israel, and to help both compete on the global stage. Nixon Peabody is going to be a very strong platform for these undertakings.