What is your specific role, and what does this entail?
IFM Investors is an institutional fund manager investing across a variety of asset classes globally. I head the legal team for Europe and the US. Our offices in London and New York concentrate on infrastructure assets and financing.
We are involved across the organisation from new product development, fundraising, asset acquisition and management to, where applicable, divestment of assets.
How is the legal team structured locally and globally?
We have two teams – one Australian based and the US/UK team.
The US/UK team specialise in and integrate with certain areas – for example infrastructure equity, where M&A is a focus, or infrastructure debt, where project finance is a focus. They report to me and I report to the chief commercial officer, who reports to the CEO.
What are the key challenges and opportunities facing your legal team at the moment?
Funds management (and the infrastructure space particularly) is very competitive. The business needs to continue to evolve in the market while remaining true to our heritage of being a truly aligned fund manager owned by investors (we are owned by 29 not-for-profit pension funds).
In our role we are involved across all aspects of the business and must ensure we proactively and commercially add to the business to drive the right outcomes for our investors.
Are there unique challenges for your legal team in dealing with multiple jurisdictions or cross-border business? Do you have an international panel?
Like all multinational businesses there are challenges in structuring a product or investment that suits all needs and requirements up and down the chain across various jurisdictions and tax requirements.
We tend to use international firms with a thorough understanding of, and experience in, cross-border business.
How significant are legal issues in your company’s international strategy?
We have a material role to play in implementing our international strategy. Our team must understand the legal and compliance requirements and stay up to date with developments across numerous jurisdictions.
When would you typically enlist external counsel rather than doing the work in-house?
Usually, for large M&A deals with extensive due diligence and specialist knowledge, we would engage external counsel.
For new products, we would likely engage external counsel for structuring and establishment advice.
How do you instruct external counsel domestically and internationally?
This usually depends on experience and insight for the specific matter.
What are the key elements in making a decision about which external counsel to hire?
Expertise is critical, but relationships are also important. An external firm that knows and understands our business, that is looking out for our business and that is proactively working with us (rather than waiting for a call) will get the work. We have a handful of firms we have great relationships with, and they get repeat work. It also helps if we actually get along; sometimes personalities just don’t gel, and that makes work painful.
What are your best and worst experiences in hiring external counsel?
The best experiences are when external counsel understand the commercial rationale and nature of the deal, they understand our business and they want us to do the deal.
The worst experiences are with firms that think you are lucky to have them as advisors, will not work to deadlines or instructions, and are uncommercial (eg, overly legal or antagonistic).
What makes a great in-house counsel?
It’s a cliché, but being more than ‘just a lawyer’ clinging to the safety of only legal matters. I would be very disappointed if people in my team didn’t participate because it was a commercial matter and not legal.
We don’t have the concept of internal clients here, we are part of the team working for our investors and a great in-house counsel understands and adds to the business.
- HQ Location: Melbourne, Australia
- Industry/sector: financial services
- Year of foundation: 1990
- Company reach: 7 offices worldwide
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All statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual and not the organisation.
Published July 2016