The leading offshore firms are nothing if not globally minded. Take Mourant Ozannes and Appleby, two of the big names in the offshore market. Both operate in Jersey, Guernsey, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong. But each has further global offices as well – Mourant Ozannes in London and Appleby in the Isle of Man, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Shanghai.
And with that comes a need for top-class business support across all functions. Chief operating officers (COOs) are more common as well as increasingly senior professionals across marketing and business development (BD), HR, finance, knowledge management and IT – these are leaders who can support their firm’s growth on a global playing field.
And yet, in talking to business services professionals from both firms, it is clear that they think a perception remains that the offshore legal market is a ‘backwater’. When Keith Pearse, COO at Mourant Ozannes, was first contacted about a role in Jersey, he confesses that he first thought about Bergerac and elderly holiday makers. ‘But the reality is very different,’ he says. Indeed, shortly after our chat, Pearse was heading off to the firm’s partner conference in New York.
Onshore v offshore
This international quality gives business roles in offshore firms a unique flavour. They might not be as big as City firms, but the smaller workforce is likely to be spread across many jurisdictions. ‘You have to be able to manage communications across different timezones and cultures, and the opportunity to work face to face is more limited because there are often many more offices,’ says Gareth Russell, COO at Appleby. ‘You need to be able to build relationships, and manage and lead people at a distance.’
There are other differences too. David Byrne, chief marketing officer at Mourant Ozannes, talks about the dual nature of BD offshore. ‘You’re not just marketing to underlying clients but also working through intermediaries – ie, onshore law firms that need advice on Channel Islands or Caribbean elements of a transaction. You therefore have different messages.’ That also means, he adds, that you’re much more visible on a BD front, building relationships yourself. ‘It’s terrific to make those connections and have common clients with, say, Clifford Chance. You feel very much front and centre.’
There is general agreement that offshore business services functions mirror those of onshore firms. ‘The need for top-quality business services functions is equal to any law firm,’ says Pearse. All mention too the high quality of the ‘interesting and challenging’ work that is on offer across all business functions.
But there are some structural differences in the way business functions operate offshore. Helen Pitchford, marketing director at Appleby, points out that compliance teams tend to be much larger in offshore firms due to the higher levels of regulation compared to onshore. Russell also adds that investment in technology is very significant. ‘You need to be able to operate in jurisdictions that may not be as developed as onshore and you have to ensure seamless operations,’ he says.
Offshore firms are, therefore, seeking talent that can compete with the very best of the City firms, while also being able to meet the unique requirements of an offshore market. At the same time they are trying to achieve that against a prevailing view that offshore firms are more backward than City operations.
‘Recruitment is more difficult,’ agrees Pearse. ‘You’re fishing from a smaller pond. You have to recruit internationally and work harder to break down perceptions. You have to involve senior people in the process, and you have to make people realise what a fantastic place this is to live and work.’ The calibre of the professionals both these firms have attracted so far suggests considerable success, however. Our four contributors from Appleby and Mourant Ozannes boast experience from City firms including CMS, Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Withers, as well as Ernst & Young, Barclays and BP. And when you land a big name, says Pearse, it helps build momentum.
It must help too that offshore locations offer an enviable lifestyle choice. While alone, a seaview from your office window and a ten-minute commute (max) will probably not be enough to entice the best talent, it certainly helps seal the deal, when combined with great work opportunities. It was a factor that certainly came into play when Pitchford decided to go offshore. She was struggling with a commute between Derbyshire and London when the opportunity to move to the Isle of Man came up. Six years later, she has not looked back.
Even work permit limitations are not what they were. ‘Work permits can take some time to process, but offshore jurisdictions increasingly realise the importance of bringing in the right talent,’ says Russell. ‘Processes are getting quicker and more straightforward.’
At Totum, we too have seen how offshore firms now boast first-class business support functions and have been delighted to help place talent at the top of HR, finance, marketing and knowledge management teams here. With an increasingly capable business services community offshore, we are confident that the offshore future of law is bright.