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Per M. Ristvedt: The benefits of being ‘first’

The Oslo-based partner and head of dispute resolution talks about the recent Schjødt-Hamilton merger that is set to create a one-stop for clients in Scandinavia

As a business, how has Schjødt evolved since you have been at the firm?

What has changed most over the years in Schjødt is that there is a need for the firm to be organised and run in an optimised manner, since the response time in regards to many of the assignments are often quite short. This means that the firm needs to be very effective in allocating matters to the people with the right skills and who also have the time to serve the clients within the time frame they expect or demand. Then, you also need to have lawyers who connects well with the clients.

What do you think are the top three things most clients want, and why?

First, clients want the right legal advice. Second, it applies value if the legal advice is also commercially viable (if possible).

Third, the advice must be provided within the timeframe the clients need it. If the lawyer does these three things, and otherwise is engaged in the matter and available to the client, the clients’ expectations are normally met or perhaps even exceeded.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms in Norway?

The Norwegian industry has not yet faced any big challenges, in my opinion. The market has been good, and demand for our services has been quite constant, despite the oil crises in 2014 and onwards. The way we see things is that the firms who cannot act as a one-stop-shop may experience some challenges in the years ahead. This is one of the reasons we decided to merge with the Swedish law firm Hamilton, so that we are not only a one-stop firm in Norway but in the Scandinavian region.

The merger with Hamilton is the first of its kind in the Nordic market. What led to the decision to make this move into the Swedish market and to be the first Norwegian firm to merge with a Swedish counterpart?

The main reasons for the Schjødt-Hamilton merger are that we become the first leading law firm in Scandinavia to establish operations covering both Norway and Sweden, which provides new and further growth opportunities in Scandinavia.

Hamilton is considered the perfect match – not too big and not too small. Via the merger we become the biggest law firm in Norway. Schjødt also becomes one of the largest law firms in the Nordic countries and thereby a significant player in the Scandinavian market. We will become about 250 lawyers. Combined, after the merger, the M&A team at Schjødt will be the market leader in the Nordic region.

Why do you think it has taken so long for there to be a cross-border merger of this kind?

We know that other law firms have contemplated this, but none have had the guts to try it. When the merger was announced several of the other firms in Norway complemented us and actually told us: ‘This is impressive, only Schjødt could do this.’

What impact do you feel this will ultimately have on both the Norwegian and Swedish markets? Do you feel others will follow suit?

Maybe, it’s hard to say. If it should happen, we welcome the competition and Schjødt will have an edge as being the ‘first mover’.

Which aspects of each firm do you feel will most benefit from the merger?

We have analysed this carefully, and we actually foresee opportunities and growth possibilities in most departments of our firm. As indicated above, we believe the merger will be particularly noticeable within the M&A segment.

How will your client base benefit from the merger?

Sweden is Norway’s most important trading partner in the Nordic region. We believe clients will benefit via seamless and first-class service to clients with operations in the Norwegian and Swedish markets.

With each firm having its own unique culture, how are you approaching combining the two cultures into a cohesive firm, particularly regarding the differences between the Norwegian and Swedish legal markets? Do you think there will be any challenges?

You are right that there are some differences in cultures between the firms and also in the Norwegian and Swedish legal markets. However, these are matters that have been carefully considered, and we see them more as opportunities. The respective firms are fully aware of what is expected of each other. Furthermore, both firms really wanted this merger. We have a very strong and joint belief in both Hamilton and Schjødt that this merger will be a success and we will work hard to make it happen.

What are the key aims for the firm beyond the merger? What do you hope to accomplish going forward?

The merged firm will become a truly international law firm, with offices in three countries. While Sweden is Norway’s biggest and most important trading partner in the Nordic Region, England is Norway’s most important trading partner in Europe. Such a Scandinavian venture as the merger between Schjødt and Hamilton represents, thus provides greater growth opportunities both in Norway, Sweden, and also in England.

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