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Legal life in... New York

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Why did you choose a career in law?

I was never destined to be a lawyer. However, I grew up in a very international environment (born in Paris to a Spanish Moroccan mother and a Polish father, I went to a bilingual French and English primary and secondary school) and I knew from my very early years I wanted to travel and work in an international work environment. From my years at Sciences Po in Paris I gained an interest in the intellectual aspects of practicing law, but it wasn’t until after I went to law school and earned majors in international trade law as well as English and U.S. law that I felt I could combine the practice of law with my keen interest in international work. This combination has inspired and reflected my career as a lawyer ever since. 

Tell us about your firm

 My firm, The Law Office of S. Grynwajc, PLLC (www.transatlantic-lawyer.com), is a NY-based international law practice assisting European entrepreneurs, startups and small to mid-size companies in expanding into the U.S. and Canadian markets, but also U.S-based companies looking to expand into the U.K. and Europe. We are a general practice firm offering the full suite of legal services startups looking to establish themselves or expand into new territories need, with a particular practice focus on company, commercial and IP/IT law, and a particular industry focus on the technology sector. We also partner with other independent firms in Europe (Paris and London) and Canada to better serve the needs of our international clientele.

What are currently the main challenges for law firms in New York?

With over 175,000 lawyers, New York is the largest U.S state by the number of lawyers. From there the main challenge is for these lawyers to survive and make a living. Most people don’t know that, but 48% of NY-based lawyers are sole practitioners, and 63% work in firms of 3 lawyers and less. So there is fierce competition at a time when 15,000 new lawyers enter the NY market every year. In 2015 fewer entry-level lawyers have found work in law firms than ever since 1996. So the main challenge is to find a market for all these new entrants, and to continue making a career in law in appealing prospect despite the fact that enrollment in law schools across the country has been in steady decline for over 6 years now.

And what are currently the main opportunities for law firms in New York?

Precisely because the NY market for law firms is so competitive there are real opportunities for those firms which take the measure of the new realities of today’s legal market and of the competition by unregulated legal services providers. The market has changed, and so has the nature of the need for legal services. Firms which take the measure of these new paradigms and offer services differently, focussing on a different value proposition will continue to prosper. The NY market is also the most international legal marketplace in the U.S., in which foreign legal practitioners find real opportunities to offer a different legal expertise to a very diverse and international clientele (40% of New Yorkers were not born in the U.S.). There are also new opportunities for foreign lawyers in NY since the adoption by the Court of Appeals (the highest state court) of the foreign in-house lawyer status in December 2015.

What opportunities for co-operation are there between NY and UK law firms?

Interestingly, when NY law firms look to the European legal market, they essentially look at the UK. There are obviously historical and cultural reasons to that, but also common legal traditions, and not the language barriers associated with doing business with other parts of Europe. For a NY firm to have a presence or alliance with a UK-based firm is always a distinct advantage when appealing to an international clientele. But having a NY presence or alliance with a NY-based firm is also a competitive advantage for UK-based firms given that NY law is the #1 choice of law in international contracts after English law and that NY also aspires to be one of the leading fora for international dispute resolution. There is a natural cultural fit for UK and U.S. law firms to cooperate, but also for UK legal practitioners to find a market for themselves in the U.S., whether in law firms or even in-house at companies with international legal operations.

What advice would you give to UK law firms or companies doing business in New York?

Although international by nature, the NY legal market also remains a local market. Large City law firms are present in NY, and have been around for a while. They know the local market well. But as I mentioned this isn’t the majority of law firms in NY, nor are the majority of NY-based lawyers employed by these large firms. For smaller UK firms, having an association with a NY-based firm is important from a marketing and positioning standpoint. You just can’t run a NY practice from the UK, or even open a UK-based office and run it successfully independently of any form of alliance with local firms. But there is a huge market opportunity for UK legal practitioners in the U.S., in particular if they intend on continuing to practice English law, provided they study the market and learn how to package and market their difference.

The same applies to in-house legal practitioners as the vast majority of in-house lawyers in New York practice U.S. law only and do not have the training or capability to practice foreign law. So if you are looking to work in-house, and take advantage of the new foreign in-house registration, the time is ripe. Look out for those U.S. companies which do have an international market strategy but no “legal hub” in the UK from which they can service the local market. They would be your best bet!

And what are your recommendations for visitors to New York?

New York is home to one of the most diverse populations in the world. It is also a fascinating city, and one that visitors are best advised to visit by foot, which allows them to discover its many parts. Just from one area to another the visitor often finds himself in a whole new world! So my advice would be to walk the city and discover its many treasures as well as some of the most diverse cuisines in the world!

The views are the views of the author and not those of the Law Society.

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