Reed Smith adapts to variety of cultures
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For well more than a century, Downtown-based Reed Smith was an exclusively domestic operation, and was satisfied to be so. But in 2001, shortly after Pittsburgh-born Mellon Financial Corp. opened its first European hedge-fund unit in London, the law firm followed its longtime banking client overseas, opening its own London practice.
A decade later, Reed Smith is now a fully global operation, having opened offices in Abu Dhabi, Greece, London, Munich, Paris and three Asian locations, including a Shanghai office in July.
This year, the law firm is looking at a foray into Singapore because of the city-state's position as a Southeast Asian shipping and trading hub.
"Our attention to the potential for global opportunities grew over time," said Greg Jordan, Reed Smith's firm-wide managing partner. "Some of that came from our success in London," which took the company into Paris and Munich and in turn opened Reed Smith to Far East possibilities.
The firm, which has 600 lawyers outside of the U.S., quickly learned that running different practices in different countries, and continents, presented challenges that the company had rarely encountered previously.
"There's a lot to learn," Mr. Jordan said. "We operate in local currencies ... we have to adapt to local culture or local customs. [And] it truly is a 24-7 business. Late last night, I was on the email, dealing with people in Asia."
Geographic diversification has benefits and drawbacks. One benefit is a bit of insulation from regional -- or even national -- economic downturns, allowing the firm to shift resources from soft markets to those that are stronger.
A larger geographic footprint also means a larger client base, and thus a larger revenue base. In 2012, for the first time, Reed Smith expects to bring in more than $1 billion in revenue, after finishing 2011 with $993 million.
One drawback is the lack of face time among far-flung partners. That's why Reed Smith holds an annual partner meeting. This April, it's in Los Angeles.
Another potential drawback, naturally, is increased travel for those whose job descriptions include maintaining that face time.
"I spend 180 days a year on the road, visiting our operations and our clients," Mr. Jordan said.
The Internet makes it easier than ever to keep tabs on offices and clients around the globe -- video conferences are routine, and phone calls are now made over the Web, too, using VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] technology.
The wonders of the Internet likewise allow Reed Smith to lend back-office administrative support to those distant practices from its home base in Pittsburgh, rather than outsourcing tech-support jobs to international locales with vastly cheaper labor.
As Reed Smith has grown -- from about 600 total attorneys firm-wide in 2001 to more than 600 overseas attorneys today (1,700 lawyers in all) -- so has the local back-office support unit.
In 2004, the firm employed about 70 people in its Global Customer Centre. Today, the outfit, based in the former National Steel (and National City) building at 20 Stanwix St., employs 300.
"If somebody in Dubai needs help figuring out [the computer], somebody here in Pittsburgh walks them through it," Mr. Jordan said.
First Published March 20, 2012 12:00 am