By Michael Canfield, originally published in Buffalo Law Journal, Buffalo Business First on Apr 23, 2018, 6:00am EDT.

BLJ: Law Exchange International pushes global collaboration

Being able to call on a law firm to assist with client business in all corners of the world has its advantages.

For one, a firm doesn’t have to turn down work it wouldn’t typically be able to accommodate.

For members of Law Exchange International, help is available worldwide. Locally, Phillips Lytle LLP is a member, enabling the firm to forward client business to trusted partners in areas where it doesn’t have an office. The Buffalo firm joined LEI seven years ago, said partner David Murray.

“We have been in other international networks but this one is unique,” he said.

There are 33 law firms in the network from 29 countries on five continents, according to Murray.

“You are vetted to join, and not everyone once you are vetted is asked to join,” he said. “The principles of the network are to bring together firms that are similar and like-minded in size, competency, client service ethos and coverage of certain disciplines.”

He said the network isn’t geared to large firms but, rather, to mid-market firms that aren’t looking to establish offices in places such as Japan, China and Brazil.

“Now we have reach there through the network,” he said.

Membership requires firms to invest in relationships with other members.

“For example, the entire network convenes somewhere in the world twice a year and you are required to show up,” Murray aid. “We typically send two or three representatives.”

The idea behind that is it helps to build a relationship between member firms, he said.

“We have to be able to deliver our international services to our clients in a manner that isn’t going to give them sticker shock,” he said. “This network allows us to do that.”

Many Upstate businesses have international ties and he said Law Exchange International can help. There are four other U.S. firms in the network.

“One of the partners in the Chicago-based firm, which is about 60 attorneys, always captures it very nicely,” he said. “He said what this network does for them is allow them to fight above their weight.”

The network is relevant to Murray’s practice on a weekly basis, he said. For instance, he recently contacted a German member firm in regard to work that a Buffalo business was doing in that country. His counterpart got back to him immediately to start working on the transaction.

“I’ve sat at the dinner table with him and been in meetings with him dozens of times,” he said. “I consider him a friend.”

Firms looking to join the network are subject to scrutiny, which includes presenting at conferences.

“We really view these firms as an extension of Phillips Lytle,” Murray said. “That’s the essence of the network.”

According to Murray, membership is a selling point for the law firm with clients.

He said: “You have clients who think, ‘Well, I have this matter in Indonesia and I assume I’m going to have to get a large New York or Washington firm to serve me there.’ And we say, ‘I have a friend in Indonesia’ and then explain what the network is. Clients who take advantage of the network for the first time are often shocked by that.”