Vittorio Noseda: “We completely changed our business proposition and approach”
Advant is a new law firm alliance formed by Italian firm Nctm, German firm Beiten Burkhardt and French firm Altana. One of its leadership partners, a former managing partner of Nctm, tells us in depth about how the alliance will work, and what value it will add for clients.
Leaders League: How do Nctm, Beiten Burkhardt and Altana complement each other culturally?
Vittorio Noseda: All three firms have a solid continental European background, and share the same goals, values and vision. At the same time, the firms are deeply rooted in their respective local culture. Our combined strength and synergy are the result of the combination of our cultures which are common and unique at the same time.
Until recently, we’ve been working in Italy and promoting our work on an Italian level; this was enough until 10 years ago. The world, in business terms, was smaller, so any deal we did would have a substantial Italian component. Now the world is completely different: when businesses are looking at Europe, they’re looking at Europe as a whole, not at individual countries. So we decided to completely change our business proposition and approach: we now promote Europe, not just Italy.
Throughout continental Europe, we all have a common professional basis: our Roman law roots have been transposed into civil law. We all speak the same legalese, very different from common law.
Brexit has also had an impact. Continental Europe is now the Europe that matters: we want to offer services in a seamless way throughout Europe.
What does Nctm now have (through Advant) that it was lacking before? Is there anything besides a greater flow of work from France and Germany?
We are confident that Advant Nctm will gain many advantages from the new EU association. These will include higher visibility internationally, maximization of business opportunities, and a platform to share resources and best practices with the other member firms, conjoin IT infrastructure, foster legaltech developments, and, last but not least, attract and retain even greater legal talent.
What is Nctm bringing to Advant that expands the capabilities of your partner firms?
Advant Nctm already ranks among the leading and most prominent law firms in Italy, and we have an established international presence through our offices in London, Shanghai and Brussels. We believe that, through their partnership with us in Advant, the other member firms will be able to serve their clients even better as Advant, and we will allow them to scale their services internationally and generate efficiencies and savings.
Nctm and Beiten Burkhardt are of similar size; Altana is much smaller, yet it has an equal voice on the leadership board. What attracted Nctm to Altana?
Advant was founded based on agreed values, a shared mission, and the local strengths of each partner. In fact, each partner is highly regarded in its own country and is much respected for the quality of its services. We want to serve our clients on the basis of seamless high-quality standards and fully match their needs in EU and internationally.
Simply put, Altana is very good. For us, quality is the top priority. Now that we are “married” within this network, the other firms have to deliver services at the same level for which we are well known. We could not take any risks: we were to have the same name, the same branding, and the same business proposition. We selected Altana because we knew it can deliver legal services at the highest level.
Remember, the core of Altana comes from Rambaud Martel [now Orrick Rambaud Martel], which was one of the top law firms in France. The Altana lawyers are really good at what they’re doing; we’ve been working with them for years, experiencing their quality level, delivery level and availability standards.
How did the idea of Advant originate, and what were the specific considerations that meant it took three years to implement?
We have known each other as firms and colleagues for many years, and have collaborated on several occasions during that time. We realized that we share the same values and vision, and have recognized and understood our clients’ increasing need for a European alliance and focus.
We were at the IBA in Sydney in 2017, and we sat around a table and said, “We really do need to do a continental alliance. The world is changing; we need to offer Europe, not just our own countries.” Looking at Europe from Sydney, or from China or the US, you see Europe as one market. This is how multinationals see Europe: one large market. But working within it, you see it’s split into many jurisdictions and legal complications. This is not in line with the EU project: so many different jurisdictions don’t mesh with the idea of the single market. We wanted to bridge this gap, and so Advant was born.
Why did it take so long? Well, it takes time to develop your own internal rules, start working together, ensure that the separate departments are interacting, and check that the partners are all on board to go down this route. Whenever you’re marrying someone, it’s a choice for life! You’ve got to be sure it’s the right partner. We’ve been working very extensively on growing up together, testing each other, agreeing common practices and deadlines, and ensuring we could offer the same kind of services.
By what mechanisms, practically speaking, will you share best practices, technology and resources?
We have already worked (and are busy working) within the Advant Steering Group and within the professional departments of each firm to converge closely on service levels, practices and technology. Through the Steering Group we establish our joint strategic priorities and set up and monitor the working groups that are handling the implementation of the strategic priorities.
All clients around the world expect the same basic things – quality, attentiveness, partner-led work – but inhabit different cultures and have subtly different expectations of their advisers. Given that the verein structure encourages independence of member firms, how will you honor cultural differences in client expectations while maintaining a unified brand?
We work hard at creating a collaborative culture among the professionals in our firms, ensuring sharing, alignment, and a common understanding of issues and clients’ needs. In addition, we are implementing a set of best practices which all professionals in the firms will observe, and we will carry out a secondment program to foster team collaboration.
This alliance needs to have a real, very effective and stringent convergence to meet its goals. Fortunately, there’s no cultural issue. All the firms and partners get along; most decisions get taken swiftly on a unanimous basis. No firm prevails over another. We want to share as much as possible.
Some vereins have historically been derailed by problems in one member firm damaging the brand, sometimes fatally. How will Advant ensure a level of healthy transparency while maintaining the independence of its member firms?
For this very reason, we started Advant with three founding member firms with the same strong reputation, well known for their quality and efficiency. We want to set a strong foundation and deepen our collaboration while growing over time. We are confident that this strategy, in combination with the checks and balances which we are establishing (direct involvement of the Steering Group, joint practice groups, a set of best practices for all Advant professionals, etc.) will ensure the success of ADVANT and all its member firms at all times.
You don’t marry someone without being convinced that you can share everything with them. This is a real wedding; we’re not just putting a small trademark at the bottom of our letterhead. We’re sharing everything, except for the local economics. If you were to see my inbox and outbox today, you would see so many emails on these implementation and convergency streams, which we put in place years ago and are still not done. It will always be an ongoing process, but it is key to the project.
For example: our IT department needed to buy more software. I firmly decided that whatever they need to buy needed to be approved by our alliance partners in Germany and France. Advant needs common software. Everything needs to be shared, and has been being shared over the last few years in a progressive way. It will be an endless job, as in any law firm, to make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction.