As regular readers will know, I have written a fair amount in the past (see here and here) about how a depreciating Australian Dollar (A$) is likely to be unkind to the Australia-based partners of international law firms operating here. It was, therefore, pleasing to see a post ( ‘Will international ﬁrms still call Australia home?’) on the Australasian Lawyer website yesterday that largely echoed many of the comments I had previously made.
So, with (1) the Australian legal press and a number of eminent managing partners echoing my views, and (2) an A$ hovering around the 87c on the US$ mark, a new question now comes to mind:
Can a falling A$ make selling Australian legal services easier overseas?
The answer here will depend on your law firm, its culture and client base. But, assuming that your firm actively encourages cross-border collaboration (and there is a whole different post there), the short answer should be yes.
If that’s the case, then some of things you need to be considering include:
- How recently did I update my website profile/CV? Are all my deals Australian-based? Am I showing regional experience? Indeed, am I using regional keywords in my website profile or only local Australian used ones?
- What sectors in Australia are likely to benefit from a falling A$ (tourism?)? Do I have expertise or a story to sell here?
- A falling A$ should make assets in Australia more attractive to international purchasers (case in point: pension funds looking at real estate?). What am I and my colleagues doing about this?
- What is the Australian Government’s current policy towards a falling A$ and foreign direct investment (FDI)? Is there a story to tell here (and there most likely is if you look closely enough)?
- Are there regional developments that I could take advantage of (for example, development of arbitration courts in Singapore and HK?)?
- Are there any free trade agreements (FTAs) in pace that make the falling A$ attractive (export markets?)?
- When was the last time I talked with my clients to see how they were being affected by market/currency fluctuations and what steps they are putting in place to get the most out of this (manufacturing/FMCG?)?
- Is there any way I can help my clients out with the current environment (put them in contact with clients in Asia?)? Maybe I can/should attend a regional trade or industry conference.
- How often am I communicating with my colleagues in Asia, US and Europe to discuss work opportunities (including the chance to work in US$s?)? [time differences may have put this off before; but if I can bill in US$s, suddenly 2am conference calls don’t look so bad!]
- What local or regional opportunities (tenders, capability statements, etc) are my business development team working on? Is there any way I can get in on this?
- What regional panels are my firm on and can I look to develop these? If so, who is the relationship partner?
- Should I be considering a secondment to another office in our firm network or to a client outside Australia (Asia, Europe, US) [especially if I can charge US$ for it!]?
Clearly you will need to make sure that you are meeting your clients’ expectations. You will also need to make sure you have in place a fee mechanism that is considerate of the exchange rate, while being beneficial to you and your firm, and also allowing everyone to prosper from the situation.
But, at 87c on the US$, the value proposition of an Australian lawyer active outside of Australia (such as in Asia) should have become a lot easier to communicate today than it was a year ago.
Now for a word of caution:
if you have been billing a client (especially one outside Australia) for several years in A$s, now is not the time to suddenly, and without notice, start billing that same client in US$s.
Strange as it may seem, clients will quickly see through this move. So make sure you give this issue careful consideration (as clients have also been known to talk with each other!).