California - Law Firms San Francisco: A Gateway To The World

Editor: Would each of you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Deshon: I started my career as a municipal/infrastructure finance lawyer, and for many years practiced within that framework. I developed an expertise in the power sector, with particular reference to the West Coast, and that evolved into a substantial amount of work in project finance. In late 1998, my prior firm transferred me to Hong Kong to head up their office there with the idea that I would be engaged in a considerable amount of project finance work. I was there for more than four years. I joined Nixon Peabody in 2005 and continue to work in the municipal/infrastructure finance area. I am also working closely with Ann and others on the firm's International Team to leverage my expertise, with a particular focus on opportunities in Asia.

Miller: I began my practice with Lillick & Charles, which merged with Nixon Peabody in 2001, and I have been here for my entire career. Initially, I practiced as a maritime lawyer, and thus I have been working in the international arena, for both European and Asian clients from the very beginning of my career. That led to work for the London insurance market - again dealing with international clients - on U.S. losses. I am currently Team Leader for Nixon Peabody's International Team.

Editor: How has the practice each of you has pursued evolved over the course of your career?

Miller: The world has gotten smaller over the course of my career. An increasing number of companies that were oriented to domestic markets, be they U.S.-based or other, are now operating globally. The distinction between a domestic and an international practice has become blurred.

Deshon: The development of my practice has followed a somewhat different course. I began my career in a legal discipline - traditional public finance - that was strictly domestic. My overseas assignment was a significant change for me, and I have been fortunate in that I have been able to develop an international component to my practice while maintaining the domestic aspect.

Editor: Nixon Peabody has had a West Coast presence since 2001. You mentioned the Lillick & Charles merger. Can you tell us about the factors that went into the decision to merge?

Miller: Lillick & Charles had over the years wanted to remain independent, and had for many years resisted overtures from other firms to merge. A time came, however, when we found that in order to continue to serve our clients, both domestically and internationally, we required a larger platform - both in terms of depth and breadth of expertise and in geographic reach. Lillick & Charles was a firm with a strong institutional sense of history, and in Nixon Peabody - with its distinguished and longstanding presence in both New York State and New England - we found people with a very similar sense of history. We recognized the quality of the lawyers at Nixon Peabody and their dedication to excellence and service to their clients. The merger was the coming together of very similar cultures.

Editor: Were there particular strengths that each side brought to the merger?

Miller: Lillick & Charles was a firm of approximately 100 lawyers, with excellent financial services and dispute resolution practices. Nixon Peabody had those strengths also. Today, Nixon Peabody has a broad range of expertise within a broad range of industries. Financial services, in its various aspects, and dispute resolution, both international and U.S. domestic, continue to be strengths of our firm.

Deshon: Speaking to the culture of the combined firm, one of the things that attracted me to Nixon Peabody was a distinctive culture and set of values that balances the business aspect with the legal practice aspect of large law firm practice. Many firms have moved too far toward one side or the other of this balance.

Editor: Please tell us about the other West Coast offices the firm has at present.

Miller: Lillick & Charles had a Southern California presence for many years, which resulted in Nixon Peabody maintaining the existing Orange County office. Most recently, Nixon Peabody opened an office in Los Angeles as the result of a group of attorneys from another firm joining us to further expand our Southern California presence.

Deshon: The Los Angeles group consists of former colleagues of mine. They have a particular focus on public finance, which fits into our firm-wide practice in that area very well, in addition to my own practice.

Miller: Integrating the various offices of Nixon Peabody has been aided by the fact that our firm is organized into practice groups and teams that extend across all of our offices. We have close working relationships with lawyers in the firm's other offices, and we call upon the most appropriate lawyer or teams from whichever office is appropriate to staff matters and best serve our clients.

Editor: You both have extensive international experience. Would you share with us your thoughts on how globalization is affecting the areas in which you practice?

Deshon: Globalization has had a tremendous impact on the way finance work is handled today. From the international perspective, technology enables a lawyer to be available virtually all of the time for work arising from almost anywhere in the world. The competitors we face are also changing. In the past, most international work was handled by U.S. or European firms. Today, particularly with respect to indigenous firms in Asia, those local firms are becoming very serious competitors.

Miller: Globalization also means that we deal on a daily basis with clients and lawyers from around the world. In my role as leader of the International Team, I am constantly identifying the right lawyers, both within and outside of our firm, to work together on an international basis to serve the needs of clients. It is a pleasure to do so, and to be practicing law at a time when there is growth in many interesting parts of the world which will have global impact.

Editor: Speaking of the enforcement of rules, how important is it to be connected with the governmental agencies and regulators in the foreign destinations where your clients wish to do business?

Deshon: It is extremely important to be on good terms, and be able to interact, with governmental agencies in any jurisdiction where our clients operate. To that end, we make a considerable effort to develop good relationships with a select number of law firms in Asia and Europe which have the necessary knowledge and connections, and with governmental agency representatives in the countries of the world in which we practice.

Miller: We strive to develop and foster relationships with foreign law firms with which we can work seamlessly for our clients. We must know these law firms, their capabilities and service standards well so that we can honestly represent them to our clients as we would one of the Nixon Peabody lawyers. Nixon Peabody is known as a firm that is able to and does practice globally by leveraging these partnerships around the world.

Editor: As more and more nations become part of a single world economy, are you seeing the emergence of common global standards?

Deshon: China is developing very rapidly, and there is certainly a great desire on the part of the Chinese to become a major participant - perhaps even the major participant - in the global economy. If that goal can be better achieved through the adoption of a common global standard - say in ADR or the protection of intellectual property - I think we will see the Chinese moving in that direction. In many areas of the law, the world is moving toward a few basic models, but no single model fits all in any area of the law, and I think it is going to be a while before there is a single set of worldwide legal standards for, say, what must be disclosed in an IPO or what is necessary for the protection of a patent.

Miller: There are an increasing number of very good indigenous law firms in China, which are well able to compete on many fronts with the international firms which have set up offices there. This is also true of Japan, India and other countries of Asia. There are certainly matters which may require the contribution of those practicing in large international firms, but the indigenous firms, in addition to those international firms, provide competition for the growing amount of work in Asia. It is my observation that at least some of the countries of Asia - Japan for one - are focusing on significantly raising the standards for legal education, in order to better compete with multinational firms.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about the future? Where would you like to see the firm, and the San Francisco office in particular, in, say, five years?

Deshon: San Francisco today is one of the principal gateways to the Pacific Rim, to China, India and beyond. We need to continue to work to best position Nixon Peabody to assist our clients when they are entering that arena.

Miller: In addition to building on the success we have enjoyed to date, I would like to see the firm continue to attract the high quality of lawyer, and person, that it has attracted for so many years. I would also like to see the firm continue its focus on diversity, and maintain the level of awareness of the international component as critical to the firm's overall practice. If the past is any indication, the future of our firm is going to be very bright.

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