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Stéphane Puel: The ties that bind a partnership

Stéphane Puel: The ties that bind a partnership interview image

The managing partner of Gide Loyrette Nouel talks about the importance of collaborative partners, establishing an Innovation Commission, and investing in your top talent

How would you define your firm’s culture?

Gide has always been a pioneer on the market: for instance, we were the first French firm to set up in Brussels in 1967. Agility is also part of our culture; we have always adapted to our client’s needs with our unique platform of diverse practices and specialties. Performance is also deeply rooted in our culture, and we’ve continuously achieved a great number of top tier rankings in legal directories.

Lastly, innovation is at the core of our strategy. Gide has set up Gide 255, the first team on the market dedicated to offering strategic, legal, and regulatory advice on all matters related to its clients’ digital transformation.

What advantages does a firm with strong French roots offer clients that they are less likely to find at Anglo-Saxon firms?

As a French multi-disciplinary firm with a leading position in all fields of business law, we advise and assist a wide variety of clients: businesses in very different sectors, public and private sector institutions, investment funds, governments, etc.

Gide also benefits from a first class position in the French legal scene. Over the years, we’ve maintained a strong relationship with French Authorities as well as European institutions, having thus in-depth knowledge of the workings and procedures of these authorities and therefore giving us the chance to contribute to the evolution of the French and European legal framework.

Lastly, Anglo-Saxon firms and French firms have a different approach to defence in the course of a litigation. The US procedure is focused around co-operation and negotiation with authorities. While this approach is efficient, it is not adequate for every case. Furthermore, issues related to conflict of interests, for example between US headquarters and a French subsidiary, are usually complicated to deal with for a US law firm.

What are the biggest challenges facing you in France?

Brexit will definitely have a structural impact on the market, as well as the legal framework. Compliance is also a very hot topic for companies in France, with an increasing share of legal department’s budget dedicated to these issues. The market is also currently undergoing privatisations of companies such as Aéroports de Paris or La Française des Jeux. The impact of blockchain, crypto money, and ICO’s and digitalisation in general on the business sphere is major.

Since the opening of your first office outside France in 1967 (in Brussels), you have significantly expanded your international presence which now accounts for 40% of your activity. Do you expect this development to continue?

Our strategy is to stick with our clients anywhere they might be, by providing seamless cross-border advice and being present in strategic and developing areas. We wish to continue expanding our global reach in the future, both through our own offices and our close ties to top ‘best friend’ firms in the world. In Europe in particular, we rely on a network of independent law firms with three other prestigious firms: Chiomenti in Italy, Cuatrecasas in Spain and Portugal, and Gleiss Lutz in Germany. Gide is also the exclusive member for France of the Lex Mundi network (more than 160 law firms in over 100 countries).

How close are the ties between your international offices?

Our 12 offices have a strong history of working together on joint pitches and panels. Our offices also regularly work together on cross-border matters, involving several top tier law firms. We also have a longstanding habit of meeting regularly in Paris (a monthly partners’ general assembly for instance) and regularly organise calls and video conferences to discuss joint action plans and strategies.

Mobility is also a good example of the ties between our offices: all our lawyers can benefit from this policy – whichever the office they work in – and are encouraged to spend some time and work in our international offices.

You appointed Franck Guiader as the Head of Innovation & FinTech in June 2018. How has this area developed since his appointment?

Franck and his team have contributed in developing new needs for our clients, enlarging notably our legal assistance to also strategic advice, and defining new complementary services for corporate lawyer, by handling issues pertaining to the digital transformation.

Gide 255 is rewriting the traditional codes of advisory roles, which increasingly require an overall approach – particularly when it comes to disruptive innovation and advanced technologies – to develop activities and thus serve very different clients with high demands.

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

In our view, innovation is first and foremost in the legal field to execute complex and international transactions. It is also technological, supporting market change. Highly aware of the challenges for our clients, we have created an Innovation Commission to analyse major trends and identify new challenges.

For example, we were the first law firm in Paris to launch an offer dedicated to digital transformation, with Gide 255. We also search for efficiency at every level, for example with our contract automatisation solution, to enable our lawyers to focus on added value tasks.

You’ve recently recruited Jean-François Louit and Caroline Lan as partners. How will their specialisms tie in with the firm’s existing practice areas?

Jean-François Louit and Caroline Lan are among the most active and recognised lawyers in their field, i.e. the assistance of management in connection with various corporate transactions in particular on management package and governance matters.

Their proximity to management teams and their entrepreneurial spirit aligns perfectly with Gide’s entrepreneurial culture. They will give the firm’s clients the benefit of their vast experience in a fast-growing field, essential for transactions and the development of company groups.

What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

Gide wishes to build a long-term relationship with its lawyers, offering them a unique framework to progress. Being inclusive is a key aspect of our culture and we wish to give each individuals a high level of responsibility very early on.

We have created an internal training school, Gide Académie, with an ambitious policy of knowledge sharing and learning. A number of programmes and formats are available to our lawyers, helping them acquire and share knowledge.

We have also just launched a skills guide, which aims to support each lawyer in his or her professional development throughout all stages of their career, from new associates up to partner level.

In addition, we offer our partners and counsels a soft skills programme starting from January 2020, developed with French political science university ‘SciencesPo’, which consists in a training programme on management, leadership, and business development.

Lastly, since March 2018, we have implemented a mentoring programme, where one partner (man or woman) mentors a female associate who is not a member of his/her practice group to give her another point of view on her development and broaden her network.

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners and law firm leaders?

Young partners need to be a true business partner, that won’t just provide technical advice for a specific task. They need to employ a broad perspective, and based on their knowledge of the business, proactively consider potential risks for a client.

Secondly, being open to innovation and attentive to the market’s evolutions is crucial to be able to constantly adapt to a fast-pace changing environment and new technologies. Soft skills and leadership management are also essential to being an efficient executive.

Lastly, as an international firm, we strongly encourage professional experiences abroad, to have a chance to know different legal frameworks and professional cultures.

“At Gide, we view diversity of origin as an absolute necessity. Our lawyers hail from 35 different nationalities and from more than 40 Bar associations worldwide”

What are your firm’s policies on diversity, inclusion, and wellbeing?

At Gide, we view diversity of origin as an absolute necessity. Our lawyers hail from 35 different nationalities and from more than 40 bar associations worldwide. Our diversity approach is steered by a dedicated commission, part of the firm’s governance and made up of an equal number of men and women partners. The commission has for instance redefined priority actions to reach an objective of 30% women partners by 2025.

Gide is also convinced that wellbeing at work is key to improving the health and performance of its members. We have initiated very early on a process to encourage flexible working and begun to roll out the appropriate tools.

What key market trends in France should lawyers from other jurisdictions be made aware of?

Again, France is facing the same economic challenges as any other country such as compliance and growing digitalisation. Brexit is evidently a topic to be watched carefully.

The French bill, Loi PACTE, constitutes a significant evolution for companies, reshaping the role of businesses in the society: with the introduction of concept of raison d’être (purpose) and other CSR evolutions.

We also expect the 2024 Paris Olympics to generate large PPP and infrastructure projects.

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