Lawyer of the Week, Episode 5 — Hong Kong
This Lawyer of the Week began his career sitting in the White House writing for a U.S. President
Author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets
Pamela: Hi, My name is Pamela DeNeuve, and I’d like to welcome you to a Lawyer of the Week. This week I am very pleased to introduce John Grimly. How are you today John?
John: I am good. Thanks, Pamela, it’s great to be with you.
Pamela: I’d like to tell you a little bit about John. John Grimley specializes in providing writing, editing research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors.
John also edits and publishes asialawportal.com and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia Pacific Legal Markets. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European Representative Business Development Presence of the US AM 100 Law and Public Policy firm, Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. Welcome, John.
John: Thank you for having me.
Pamela: I would like to ask you a few questions. First, when and what made you decide to become a thought leader by editing and publishing the asianlawportal.com?
John: I was at the Inner-Pacific Bar Associations Annual Conference in Seoul South Korea in April of 2013. I went to a panel discussion where Alan Hodgart, a management consultant for law firms in London, made a presentation about how the Asia-Pacific legal markets were growing. His estimate was of the Asia Pacific legal market, which spans from South Korea to the Pacific Islands would double in size based on macroeconomic estimates between 2013 and 2017.
This ultimately led to my writing A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia Pacific Legal Markets. This was a ninety thousand words semi-scholarly study of the legal markets. In my research for that book, George Beaton argued that legal markets would indeed double but not until 2022. This was based on his assessment of legal services demand.
Pamela: How long did that project take you?
John: The whole book took about six months to write. I spent approximately fifty percent of my time working on that book; I had a great group of colleagues and the publisher who were involved with all aspects of the project. All the contributors to the book were from law firms around the region and legal experts from around the world. Without them, that book would not have been possible.
Pamela: How can people obtain this book?
John: If they go to asialawportal.com, there are a couple of links to it or they can Google the name A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia Pacific Legal Markets. It is also available on the Ark Group website.
Pamela: Wonderful, I’m sure people will want to read that. Tell us about your biggest wins and your biggest challenges?
John: I’ll start with challenges first. I work as an independent consultant both in the corporate sector and in the professional services sector. The majority of what I do is to provide writing and editing services that is based on a strategic understanding of the objective of my clients.
The challenges associated with that, are that I work in international markets and I frequently am working across time zones. We’re currently in a huge time zone gap at the moment. I’m in Hong Kong and you are in the Eastern United States.
I work across time zones, I work virtually, I work remotely from clients and the whole concept and understanding of remote work is increasingly becoming important. I think that can be challenging both from the client’s perspective and from the independent consultant’s perspective. So, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges.
In terms of the biggest win, I would consider being able to do this sort of work. It takes a heck of a lot of work to identify who your ideal potential clients are and then go out and seek to speak to them about how you might be able to help them achieve their objectives. To do that on a global basis is both challenging and incredibly rewarding as well. So the same subject is both the greatest challenge and the greatest reward.
Pamela: How would a typical day working across time zones look for you?
John: My typical day is, I get up relatively early and work for about the first five hours. Then I oftentimes will take three or four hours to have lunch, go for a walk and exercise. Then I’ll come back and rest a bit. Then I’ll work for about six to nine hours in the early afternoon to late evening.
I find that everybody is an individual. When a person works like this, what’s particularly attractive about it is that they can set their own schedule and also adjust it based on how they’re feeling in order work as effectively as possible. Then, you’re able to produce the best result for the clients. It’s nice to be able to do that.
Pamela: Yes, I’d say so too. That’s quite a schedule and we do all have our body clocks. My sweet spot is to get up at 4am and people think I’m crazy. Who is a perfect referral to you?
John: I think you mean in terms of the context for legal services. In legal services, any law firm that has an international practice, who is seeking to attract clients from overseas and who wants to take a thought leadership position where they’re merging that leadership position with a sophisticated business development posture.
I understand the strategic landscape of business development and how content marketing works within that context. So, if a firm had a business development team with specific objectives and would like to develop a certain number of clients around certain specific issues that involve cross border trade, investment or infrastructure work,
I would be able to help them generate significant amounts of sophisticated content that is aimed at the kind of discerning audiences that they’re seeking to attract. This would help them to build their practice and their firm’s revenue around this effort.
Pamela: Have you worked with firms that merged with a law firm in a different culture? Have you ever run into those kinds of challenges?
John: Most of my clients are from a variety of places in the world. I’ve worked with clients and continue to work with clients from most of the continents in the world; the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia-Pacific Region, North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia.
In terms of working with firms that have merged, I have worked with NewLaw firms that have merged across borders and on a global basis. I have worked with a number of international firms who have either undergone mergers or were considering mergers. In those cases, you’re oftentimes seeking to articulate.
In my case, I’ve written for a corporate finance law firm based in Paris, I’ve written for a government procurement practice in Brazil, and I’ve written for a Japanese client who dealt with sophisticated cross border facilitation of trade and investment activity.
When you’re doing that sort of writing and strategic advisement about what needs to be written, you’re also seeking to articulate what the client is seeking to articulate to those foreign investors that might have an interest in working with them or those potential partners in different markets. So, spending a lot of time speaking and listen to clients about what he or she might want to communicate on a cross-border basis is a lot of what I do.
Also, creating content that satisfies their needs and the needs of their clients is really where I am able to help clients. I’ve work in international markets for the majority of my career and I hope to continue doing that. It’s really a satisfying and pleasant experience. Every day is different but I really enjoy working across international markets.
Pamela: I’m sure that you provide a huge contribution to those firms. What legacy do you want to leave?
John: That’s a great question. I thought a lot about that before our interview. I have always believed strongly that international trade and investment creates wealth among the countries that are involved in it. I also believe that international trade and investment fosters friendship between people from different countries; it ultimately fosters peace among nations.
That’s one of the things that I find very satisfying; building bridges between people from different countries, working closely with them and seeking those deeply satisfying relationships that are created in cross-border trade and investment facilitation. To the extent that I might be one individual who plays a very small part of that and growing international economic activity, I would be thrilled if that were to be my legacy.
Pamela: You have really forged new territories and made your own path. That’s very encouraging to younger people who may want to consider if they want to have more of an international presence and make an international contribution such as you have.
John: I have taken an alternative career path in law, one where my legal training is still able to assist me in writing hybrid communications. It may be blog posts, articles of placement and sophisticated legal publications that merge an understanding of law, even if it’s from a country where I haven’t studied the domestic legal framework or the commercial element that oftentimes GC’s and other legal buyers are interested in reading about.
Young people who are in law school today, I think have an exciting opportunity to look at what is available to them because of the amount of communication that exists, as a result of the Internet. They are able to see niches that they might not have seen were it not for the Internet and the ability to learn about what some people are doing. These might not necessarily be a traditional legal career or, it might be a legal career that involves working in areas like international arbitration, international investors’ facilitation or any other aspect of international law and commerce where their skill set may apply.
It may apply to a NewLaw firm, it may apply to a traditional law firm, it may apply to a role in-house, and it may apply to a commercial role within a company where there legal training has helped to prepare them for that commercial element as being a predominant part of their work. There are lots of opportunities for young law students who have an interest in international careers, if they really want to achieve that.
Pamela: That’s really good, and it makes me want to ask the question if I was a young associate in a firm, and I have international aspirations but I, don’t know how to begin, what would you suggest?
John: In the larger law firms, it is challenging for lawyers to rise up the ranks and ultimately achieve partnership status in some of the more sophisticated international trade and investment practices. There might also be opportunities that exist in lawyers establishing their own boutique law firms that do international trade and investment work.
Many of my clients own elite boutiques in their localized markets where the lawyers have come from larger law firms and established boutique law firms that specialized in some of these areas. If I were a newly minted lawyer working as an associate, with aspirations to move ahead in an international legal career, I would take heart in knowing that even if I am not going to ultimately make partner and do the exact type of legal work that I want to do within the firm that I currently work, there are probably going to be opportunities for those young associates to join an elite boutique law firm, establish an elite boutique law firm or consider a NewLaw option where there are opportunities to work on cross-border transactional work.
There will be an opportunity for them to perhaps go in-house and work in companies that have an international footprint that they find attractive. There could be an opportunity for them to work with NGO’s. Many Non-Governmental Organizations do a lot of work on a cross-border basis. The United Nations for example, has a large team of lawyers that works on all sorts of legal issues related to public international law.
There are also opportunities to work in multilateral investment banks, which is a fascinating and growing area. If you look at what’s happening in China; it has it’s Belt and Road Initiative and they have set up their own Infrastructure Investment Bank. They have also set up their own Multilateral Infrastructure Initiative of which more than seventy countries worldwide are now a member of. Those operations need lawyers, as do other multilateral investment banks. There are numerous opportunities for young lawyers to pursue when it comes to international law.
Pamela: That’s some good information. Just because you’re in one place, you may have a dream to be somewhere else. It’s like you could have gone a more traditional route but you were able to look beyond that and create your own road.
John: I did, I had a curiosity about International law. I had a real interest in public international law and that gave me an opportunity to begin my career in writing. Public international law was one of the subjects that I wrote about. Then, I continued and ultimately was writing in the European Union about EU issues. That took me into professional services with a focus on law, public affairs, government relations and finance. The area of professional services is where my focus has been but whereever I have gone, professionally, the predominant component of my work has been writing.
In my consulting practice, that (writing) ultimately was what my clients wanted me to do more than anything else. So, I have over time been more and more focused, almost exclusively on writing sophisticated content for discerning audiences. It’s a specialty that I understand and enjoy. It’s one that clients appreciate and they like to have someone available who can do that for them. It’s been really gratifying to have the opportunity to do that and to be able to create a healthy lifestyle around what is oftentimes stressful work and to have a work-life balance. It has been great. When I hear about how the NewLaw lawyers are able to carve out a unique and balanced lifestyle, I think I’m doing that on a mini-level.
Pamela: That’s a real important issue and topic that’s going to be rolling out before our eyes in the very near future. In talking about that, could you talk about one thing that you do to manage your stress levels?
John: I exercise, I swim, I walk and I do yoga. It’s usually just Hatha yoga, which is fairly easy to do. If I need to take a break, I go to a matinee and take lunch for a couple of hours. Usually when I’m at lunch for a few hours, it may seem like it’s not work but often times, taking mental time away where I don’t have a phone on, and my laptop isn’t on, and when I’m not working, it gives me a great opportunity to think about the bigger picture and think about what I want to do tomorrow and what do I want to do the next day and plan ahead.
Obviously, exercising is something that I think is extremely important in order to maintain long-term health. I’m over fifty and I, try my best to eat well and live a healthy life. I think exercise is a fundamental component of that. I think I’m very lucky that I can do that. Knowing the benefits of it, I think it’s heartening to hear about companies that adopt policies that allow their employees to exercise more or take breaks when they need to.
Pamela: It’s good that you’re taking care of yourself because you can do what you’re doing for a long time. This is kind of a funny joke; a friend of mine is seventy-two years old, we were in a group discussion and one young man said, I might live until I am seventy-five. I hear people live until they’re seventy-five.
So, my friend said, well, it’s good to know that I have three years left. The truth is that people are living eighty, ninety or even one hundred years old now. So, take good care of yourself. You could be making a difference for a long time. Writing is not something that goes away; it only becomes enhanced if you keep the craft sharp.
John: I read a blog post just the other day by a writer, she was writing about one of the reasons she picked the career of a freelance writer is that she can do it into her nineties. One of the reasons I picked writing as my career, is it’s something that I can do well beyond the traditional retirement age. I like that ability to remain curious and to be able to write and keep my brain active. I think it is very important.
Pamela: I agree, John it’s been so good to talk with you.
Pamela: If someone wanted to get in touch with you, maybe if you could slowly let them know how to contact you, at the end of this we will put your information for anyone who wants to contact you but if you can verbally tell someone how they can contact you?
John: Sure, I blog in two locations. One of them that is legally focused is, “asialawportal.com” and my main blog is “johngrimleyconsulting.com.” All the relevant content and information is located in those two places.
Pamela: John, thank you so much for being our Lawyer of the Week and thank you for being such a good role model. Thank you for contributing internationally in setting an example for all of us.
John: Thank you; it was a pleasure, thank you for the opportunity
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