As one managing partner of a U.S. law firm recently commented, "Today we have to be experts in subjects that they never taught in law school -- not even five years ago. Being an excellent lawyer is no longer good enough."
Advising clients about compliance with international economic sanctions is one such challenging "new law" area.
In recent years, Walker Clark has developed a specialized service helping law firms -- especially small and midsize ones -- to strategize, organize, and market a "sanctions practice." In most law firms, the sanctions practice is an offshoot of their traditional compliance, trade, or financial services practices. Like other "new law" practice areas (e.g., renewable energy, social entrepreneurship, national security, technology transfers, and information security), a credible, competitive sanctions practice also requires that lawyers have, or are readily able to access, expertise and insights that sometimes are far beyond the traditional intellectual boundaries of "the law."
Enforcement and Legal Regulation in the Era of Sanctions
Sanctions compliance is getting a lot of attention recently. For example, the Russian law firm ART DE LEX and the Russian legal publisher Pravo.RU recently presented a one-day conference in Moscow, Enforcement and Legal Regulation in the Era of Sanctions.The meeting examined a range of highly relevant, timely issues in the delivery of legal services to individual and corporate clients who are potentially affected by sanctions:
- The impact of sanctions on the Russian business and investment climate
- Features of sanctions in the banking sector
- Sanctions and international transactions
- Best practices for sanctions compliance in rapidly changing regulatory conditions
The speakers included a diverse collection of senior government officials, representatives of major businesses and investors, and prominent lawyers from prominent Russian, American, and multinational law firms.
Very importantly, the conference on 24 April 2018 was the first of what the organizers plan as an annual event. They believe -- and we at Walker Clark completely agree -- that economic sanctions regimes have become, and will remain, a permanent part of international trade and investment.
The ability to transition to, and operate in, new paradigms like economic sanctions as a persistent feature of international business is a defining characteristic and requirement of the "new law" practice areas.
Can your law firm offer a credible, profitable sanctions practice?
A decision to launch a sanctions practice should include a very well-informed consideration of whether the law firm has, or can easily obtain, the building blocks. These include:
- a thorough understanding of the impact of economic sanctions on the client's investments or business operations
- clear definitions of the services that the firm will offer
- the ability to articulate convincing business benefits that the firm's sanctions services will deliver to clients
- an honest assessment of whether the firm has the intellectual capital (e.g., relevant experience, expert lawyers, access to non-lawyer economic expertise) to be credible in an emerging, but already very competitive, market for sanctions-related legal services
Obviously, most law firms -- including some large ones -- lack sufficient foundations like these, or the interest, to compete credibly in the market for sanctions-related legal services. In fact, the high levels of sharply focused expertise that are required suggest an opportunity for smaller law firms that have a deep practical business orientation.