fivehundred magazine > Interview with... > Michael Padarin: There’s creativity in law

Michael Padarin: There’s creativity in law

The Hong Kong-based head of Carey Olsen’s corporate practice on why lawyers must continuously think outside of the square, why there is more to the offshore world than sun, sea, and palm trees, and why you should think quality over quantity when it comes to client interactions

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

We’ve made two major changes recently, both of which will be of great benefit to our clients. The first main change has been the launch of our Hong Kong corporate practice. We were previously an insolvency, restructuring, and litigation practice only from our Hong Kong office. We now also have partners on the ground in Hong Kong with a great depth of experience in investment funds, corporate, banking and finance, and M&A. With these additional capabilities we can now provide our clients with the full range of legal support for contentious and non-contentious corporate deals from Hong Kong. We’ve also recently welcomed two experienced Bermudian lawyers to our Hong Kong office, which means that in addition to our Cayman Islands and BVI legal services, we can also advise on Bermuda law matters from Hong Kong, both for contentious and non-contentious matters.

What does innovation mean to you and how can firms be better at it?

Many outsiders to the legal profession consider the practice of law to lack scope for creativity. In reality, lawyers spend their days looking for creative solutions to commercial problems, which means continuously thinking outside of the square. Innovation to me is an intrinsic part of how we approach complex legal issues and also deliver our service to clients. Law firms can be better at innovation by really understanding their clients’ critical business needs, and looking to evolve traditional practices to deliver legal services in a manner which is sensitive to these needs.

Automation of document production is a good example of innovation in delivery of services which saves time and reduces costs for clients. The adoption of AI technology in discovery processes is also a great example of innovative technology being put to use for the benefit of clients.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms in the offshore world?

Competition from the onshore world is probably our biggest challenge. The recent introduction of economic substance legislation in a number of the offshore jurisdictions in which we operate is a good example – the legislation is intended to address EU concerns around the risks of profit shifting to entities in tax neutral jurisdictions. However, the net has been cast so wide as to potentially capture all types of offshore entities, even those that are not used in industries where harmful tax practices are a real issue. As a result of this legislation, we have seen corporate restructures taking place to eliminate some entities in the jurisdictions in which we operate, notwithstanding the entities may not be carrying on an activity which is deemed to be in a risky category. We also see a number of onshore jurisdictions creating structures that mimic typical offshore structures, such as the Singaporean variable capital company and the Hong Kong open-ended fund company, which are intended to be direct competitors to the their offshore counterparts.

How does your firm handle technology and data security? Has this become even more important following recent law firms hacks?

Law firms are built on the premise of reputation and trust, and our clients expect all forms of information and communication to be handled securely and in confidence, particularly with technology and data security playing a critical part in facilitating Carey Olsen’s ability to provide global legal services to our clients. We live in a world where technology is constantly evolving, but so too are the cyber threats that we all face. Within Carey Olsen, we continuously review and adapt our use of technology and security controls to determine how best to reduce the risks that we face. We adopt established technologies and security best practices such as those set out in the ISO/IEC 27001 standard. Our approach to security is based on the principle of defence in depth which applies layers of defensive controls and technologies to protect our data and systems from attack.

What is your firm’s approach to competition between offshore jurisdictions?

Global expansion has helped us to succeed in this era of intense competition amongst offshore jurisdictions. It also provides a perfect hedge to be able to compete in multiple jurisdictions and help to shape the regimes in which we operate. Carey Olsen’s approach to competition between offshore jurisdictions has been to ensure we have a viable presence in each of the key offshore jurisdictions, and also offices in regions where demand for offshore legal services is strongest (such as Asia). By doing this, we can be impartial in the structuring choices we offer our clients, which guarantees the best outcomes.

What do you do differently from other offshore firms?

Particularly in a saturated and cost sensitive offshore market such as Hong Kong, there is a temptation for firms to ‘buy’ legal work, through taking on engagements for next to nothing as a loss leader for future work streams. We have been careful to emphasise the quality of our product above all else. We seek to establish ourselves as a trusted advisor to clients, with an experienced team able to handle the most complex engagements. We see ourselves as specialists in our respective fields, and are not seeking to be everything to everyone.

What should young lawyers know about working offshore, compared to onshore?

There is a misconception that offshore lawyers spend their days happily swinging in hammocks somewhere within reach of the Caribbean Sea. In reality, we work in partnership with the world’s top onshore firms and need to be ever ready to respond to our mutual clients’ needs. This generally means working at least as hard as our onshore colleagues, and often working on a great many more matters at any one time. The life of the offshore lawyer is a constant juggle which is often not appreciated by young lawyers contemplating a move offshore.

With the world becoming smaller, but possibly more divided, how does your firm manage this paradox?

We are a relatively small firm with a very diverse client base, both in terms of industry sectors and also geographies. There is a tendency for offshore firms to spread themselves too thin trying to manage relationships with clients through face-to-face meetings, often in multiple cities, whilst also managing work flows and teams back in the office. We’ve taken a quality over quantity approach to client interactions through emphasising the importance of online tools to distribute timely legal information that clients find relevant to their businesses.

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise the ranks?

The importance of making strong connections within your firm cannot be overemphasised. Building strong and open relationships really helps to navigate the internal politics common to many firms, and also provides a network of specialists one can call on for technical support on tricky deals. Find a senior mentor who you respect and who respects you. Younger partners will also need to find ways to bridge gaps with older partners from different generations that communicate differently to them and their peers.

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