GLA McKenzie Long & Hugeo announced today the opening of an Antarctica office. The new office is the firm’s 683rd location, following yesterday’s opening of an outpost in the Kufra basin and oasis group in the Sahara desert. GLA is the first law firm to open an office in Antarctica.
Located in the prestigious Coats Land region of East Antarctica, the office will provide the firm’s clients and staff with easy access to the Shackleton Range, the Filchner Ice Shelf, and of course, the South Pole.
The office will be headed by Winchell Cooke, a partner in the firm’s Environmental Law practice group who will relocate from Nuuk, Greenland. Cooke, who billed 198 hours in 2013 and has $207,412.51 in A/R from the last two years, could not be reached for comment.
“We are extremely pleased to be the first international law firm to open an office in Antarctica,” said GLA Managing Partner Thaddeus “Chip” Buckley. “Our Antarctica practice has grown substantially over the past few weeks, particularly in the areas of environmental law, climate change, maritime law, and dogsled expedition law, and having GLA lawyers in Coats Land will allow us to more efficiently and effectively serve both our locally based clients and our international clients doing business in Antarctica.”
“Our firm offers its clients unparalleled global reach,” he added.
GLA has had a vibrant polar practice for more than two weeks. With at least three lawyers who do cross-country skiing (including one associate also adept at snow-shoeing), the firm offers a talented and deep team of ice-ready attorneys.
“Unparalleled Global Reach”
This is likely to be just the first step for GLA in Antarctica, the fifth-largest continent in area after Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. Buckley said the firm is looking to add another office in West Antarctica very soon, and is scouting locations in Palmer Land along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Don’t rule out the North Pole either, Buckley said. The combination would fit well with the firm’s culture because many GLA lawyers exhibit behavior that is “clinically bipolar.”
GLA is the world’s largest law firm, with over 80,000 lawyers worldwide, and has gone on an explosive growth spree in the last few years, acquiring more than 450 smaller firms.
We caught up with Buckley as he concluded a conference call with GLA’s 692 practice group chairs. He told Green Patent Blog that the recent expansion by GLA highlights a major advantage of the firm: its “unparalleled global reach.” According to Buckley, that has been very attractive to clients as GLA has been able to maintain and add thousands of clients during its recent period of rampant acquisitions.
“A Dizzying Array of Options for Getting Around Conflicts”
While mergers and acquisitions often create conflict problems that lead to lost clients and missed engagement opportunities for global law firms, Buckley said GLA has been able to avoid those issues. The solution for GLA has been to organize the firm under an innovative Bulgarian corporate structure called a Melaeighn (pronounced “malign”). With 19 offices in Bulgaria, GLA has the legal right to operate as a domestic Melaeighn.
Advantageously for GLA, a Melaeighn allows all of the firm’s offices to be governed by Bulgarian legal ethics rules. While those rules allow lawyers substantial flexibility in resolving conflicts between and among client matters handled by different offices, the key advantage, according to Buckley, is that the Bulgarian legal ethics rules have a liberal choice of law provision that allows the law firm to operate pursuant to the most lax legal conflict rule of all the jurisdictions the firm is operating in.
“With nearly 700 offices in over 180 jurisdictions, our attorneys have a dizzying array of options for getting around conflicts. We basically have license to do anything we want in terms of representing adverse parties, even in concurrent litigation and transactions.” Buckley said.
“It’s like Christmas every day!” said a partner in the firm’s highly lucrative Intellectual Property department who did not wish to be named.
While the flexibility in avoiding conflict issues is a boon for GLA lawyers, some legal industry analysts questioned whether clients might be displeased with the prospect of their counsel suing them on behalf of their direct competitors.
Buckley brushed off the concern. “We’re confident that current and prospective clients will conclude that the advantage of being represented by the largest and most prestigious law firm in the world outweighs any potential loyalty issues.” He added that GLA has “unparalleled global reach.”
“Informed Consent Through Our LAWDICK”
“Besides,” Buckley said, “we provide full disclosure and always obtain informed consent through our legitimate advance waiver of disloyalty-induced conflict contract (LAWDICK) provision, which I ordered to be inserted into all of our engagement letters. The LAWDICK is a neat little trick we picked up from the legal conflict rules in Zimbabwe,” where GLA has nine offices.
Standard in GLA engagement letters, the LAWDICK requires a client to waive any conflicts that would arise by the firm taking engagements adverse to the client and applies both retroactively and prospectively.
Buckley was coy about the language of the LAWDICK provision, but Green Patent Blog was able to obtain a copy of the firm’s standard engagement letter from an unnamed source. (Literally. For administrative efficiency, GLA has stripped its associates of names and identities in favor of an internal numbering system. The engagement letter was provided to us by Associate No. 52,961).
An excerpt of GLA’s cutting edge LAWDICK is reproduced below:
GLA McKenzie Long & Hugeo is a law firm of tens of thousands of lawyers and non-lawyer professionals in over 180 jurisdictions around the world and is involved in all kinds of business dealings, negotiations, and disputes with other clients of the firm. In consideration of GLA’s acceptance of this engagement, the Client agrees that GLA may, in the past, present, or future, and throughout all time, anywhere in the Universe, represent existing or new clients in any matter relating to the Client, including, without limitation, litigation against the Client, negotiations directly or indirectly adverse to the Client or the Client’s interests, even if substantially related to this representation or any other matters GLA has had, currently has, or will have with the Client. The Client further agrees that GLA may represent direct competitors of the client in matters directly or indirectly adverse to the Client or the Client’s interests and/or may represent employees, officers, affiliates or subsidiaries of the Client in matters directly or indirectly adverse to the Client. The Client waives any and all rights to object to any such matter as described above. This waiver notwithstanding, the Client agrees that GLA is completely and utterly loyal to the Client and will always act as a zealous advocate for the Client (unless of course another engagement comes along that could generate higher fees for GLA than those generated by working on matters for the Client). Any questioning of GLA’s loyalty to the Client by the Client will be deemed a material breach of this agreement and will be grounds for termination of this agreement.
In any event, it seems clear that GLA will continue to grow and will be the largest international law firm for a long time to come. Buckley told us that he is committed to exponential growth as he emphasized the firm’s “unparalleled global reach.”
He views the expansion as a major part of his legacy as managing partner. “That, and the firm LAWDICK inserted at my insistence.”
Even with 682 other locations, Buckley said he is particularly proud of the new Antarctica office and summed up its significance for the firm:
“These days there may be other international law firms that can say the sun never sets on their offices, but GLA is the only firm that can say the ice never melts on our offices.”
“Plus,” he added, “GLA provides unparalleled global reach.”