Anthony Shatz is a corporate partner at Fladgate LLP, the ILN’s member firm for England. In this episode, Lindsay and Anthony discuss the energy crisis and war in Ukraine and its impact on businesses and the legal industry in Europe, what makes a corporate lawyer curious, and Anthony’s passion for triathlon.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network, and our guest this week is Anthony Shatz with Fladgate, our London member. Anthony, we’re really excited to have you with us. Thank you so much for joining us.
Anthony: Thanks very much for having me, Lindsay. I’m very excited to join you too.
Lindsay: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm and your practice?
Anthony: Sure. I am a corporate M&A partner at Fladgate in London. I’ve been practicing now for, ugh, about 22 years, so I qualified around about the year 2000, so I’m somewhat into my career. I sit within the corporate team in Fladgate, and for our listeners that don’t know about our firm, we are a full-service firm in London. We only have one office in London. We’re about 90 partners, and we do lots of interesting work for a very diverse range of UK, but also international, clients.
Lindsay: And that’s great, so let’s dive right into the questions. What is your biggest challenge at the moment, and how would you say you are working to overcome it?
Anthony: Mm. Well, I think business-wise, I moved to Fladgate just over three years ago in 2019. And it wasn’t long after that, the pandemic commenced, and so for a good amount of the time that I’ve been at Fladgate, we’ve had to confront all of the challenges that the pandemic has thrown up. And that’s been challenging in terms of both maintaining, but also building networks, and also dealing with, at times, some very difficult market conditions. So I think that’s been a challenge and I’m sure, well, there are plenty of other challenges out there that I’m sure we’ll come on to discuss. I think, yeah, we live in interesting times and that makes for some challenging working conditions at times, but I think we’re doing okay and we’re managing to get through them okay.
I think also just on a … I mean, that’s business-wise. On a personal level, we have two teenage children. Our son is age 16 and our daughter is age 13. Having teenage children in 2022 is not particularly straightforward, so that’s equally as big a challenge as what we’re facing on the work front.
Lindsay: I have a teenage niece, and I agree with you.
I’m so glad I wasn’t a teenager when there were social media and cell phones. That’s for sure.
Anthony: Absolutely. But I think they’re doing okay. I think the main thing is that they’ve got good friends and good networks and good social life, so I think that’s the most important thing, and they seem to be doing pretty well on that front. So, I can’t complain.
Lindsay: Absolutely. That’s wonderful. You mentioned networks as one of the challenges to building when you came into Fladgate, and that’s something that we’ve actually talked about on the podcast before when it came to people who came into firms either just before the pandemic or during the pandemic. And I’m curious to hear your experience about how you approached building your networks when you really did come into the firm just before the pandemic. Obviously, you would’ve had an established network of clients, but how did you approach building relationships with the other members of your firm when you had only that short period of time before the pandemic really, really came into effect, and then you were forced to be working from home?
Anthony: I mean, it could have been worse because I joined about six months before anybody had started to hear about COVID. So, I had a window where I could get to know at least some of my fellow partners, and … in March 2020, just as we were going into lockdown, and so nobody met any of them for the first six or eight months that they joined the firm. So it could have been worse for me, but at the same time, six months isn’t a particularly long time to build deep relationships with people that you’ve just met. So, I think for me it delayed the process, but that said, it’s been three and a bit years now, and I think we’re through that. And in the end, I think it just delayed the process of getting to know my fellow partners. I think I’m in a much better place on that front now.
Lindsay: That’s great. Were there things that you did during the pandemic that helped the firm did? Do you think that there were any additional measures that they took that aided in that process?
Anthony: I mean, in the first lockdown, we were trying to spend quite a lot of time talking to each other on Zoom calls and in the end, I don’t think that’s a perfect substitute for actually being together, but it was better than nothing. I think from a client perspective, it was particularly tough from March 2020 through July 2020, which was when the first lockdown happened. Because if you recall, that was the time when financial markets were crashing and no one really knew where we were going with this whole thing. So it was a time of great uncertainty, but I think once we were through that initial four, five months period, I think business sort of got going again as it were, it certainly wasn’t business as usual, but it felt as if we were at least getting back on an even keel.
Lindsay: What would you say has been the biggest surprise you’ve had in the last few months?
Anthony: The biggest surprise? Well, I mean, I think, first of all, the invasion of Ukraine. That was a pretty big surprise and I don’t think many people really thought that that was going to happen. And I actually remember when the US government announced that Putin was about to invade Ukraine, I think a lot of people didn’t really take it seriously, and then it happened. So, that was definitely one event that took me by surprise; and obviously, we have very high inflation rates, both in the UK and in the US and in many other developed countries around the world, and also developing countries.
I didn’t expect that inflation would be this rampant and this entrenched. And I think that certainly in my career, for all the time I can remember, we’ve been living in a very low-interest rate environment, and we’re heading out of that low-interest rate environment now. And I think that’s going to have a huge impact on many of our clients, on economic activity, and I think that particularly in the UK, we’re going through a really tough cost of living crisis.
There’s an energy crisis, which is acute in many countries, but I think it’s particularly acute here because of our energy mix, and today, our government policy. And so I think it’s going to be a really tough period for a lot of people, and in particular, a lot of businesses and small businesses in the UK. So, I think we’re going to have a very bumpy ride over the next 12 to 18 months. And in my view, unless and until we see some resolution in the Russia/Ukraine war, I think that’s going to have an impact on everything that’s happening, and it will be difficult to resolve things until we see an end to that conflict.
Lindsay: I totally agree with you. I was speaking with one of our member firms last night, and we were discussing that the first six months of this year, in terms of member firm referrals, they were quite high compared to what they had been over the pandemic, but even over previous years. And we were saying that we expected that to change because of a lot of the factors that you just mentioned. And I’m wondering if you think that people are trying to get, especially being in the corporate and the corporate practice, if people are trying to get a lot of work done before things start to change. And that’s why we’re seeing law firms, especially in businesses, especially being so busy at the moment, because they’re trying to so of front load that before things really start to hit that downturn.
Anthony: I think it’s difficult to say. And of course, I think that the advantage of being in what you call a full-service law firm, which we are and which many of the ILN members are, is that you are relatively well hedged in that you have cyclical and countercyclical practices.
For instance, for a long time, our insolvency team has not been particularly busy, and that’s largely been driven by the fact that in the UK there’s been a legal moratorium that was put in place, as a result of the COVID pandemic, which prevents many businesses from actually going insolvent. Now, that moratorium has now been lifted. And in the UK, there is an energy price cap for individuals. It’s going up very significantly, so energy’s becoming prohibitively expensive, but there’s still a cap. But for small businesses or any businesses, that cap doesn’t apply, and so I can foresee a situation where it’s going to be very tough for a lot of small businesses, and you may see an increase in insolvencies in the UK.
I think it’s difficult to necessarily conclude that because we’re about to head into a recession or very bumpy economic times, that necessarily means that there’s going to be a significant reduction in legal work because it could drive a lot of restructurings. It could drive a lot of opportunistic buying opportunities. If currencies devalue, particularly against the dollar, then you could see US entities and buyers coming into those markets and buying opportunistically. So, I’m not super pessimistic that we’re going to fall off a cliff in terms of activity levels. What I think it means for lawyers is that the mix of work can change quite significantly, and where the work is coming from can change quite significantly. Or at least I hope I’m right because I like to keep busy.
Lindsay: And I think we’ve seen that before. So I mean, I think you’re right. For full-service firms and firms with a good mix of practices, that has borne out previously.
You mentioned the moratorium on insolvencies being lifted, and I had a similar conversation with Bas Ebels in the Netherlands and he said he felt that that may have hurt the economic situation there because it didn’t allow sort of a more natural evolution for the business environment. We didn’t have the same situation here in the US because we didn’t have those protections in place. I’m curious to hear if you think that is the case. Because there wasn’t that sort of ebb and flow of businesses, it really just sort of held down the tide on unprotected businesses that maybe should have gone under, although obviously, the reasoning was there because of the pandemic. What do you think about that?
Anthony: Well, I think that’s probably right. It has protected businesses that may not otherwise have survived, although it raises an interesting philosophical question, which is that if a government is prepared to protect businesses because of a new zoonotic virus that’s spreading around the world, why is it not prepared to protect businesses because of massive inflation in the wholesale energy markets that in part has been triggered by an invasion of another country? So, I think there’s an interesting political point there.
Lindsay: Yes, I agree. What would you say is the biggest area related to your practice that you’re curious about, and why? And I always hesitate to ask this when speaking to corporate lawyers, because the corporate lawyers always say that not a lot changes when it comes to your area of practice, but sometimes I like to ask it just to see what you say.
Anthony: Okay. Curiosity is, I think, just an important attribute for lawyers generally, and I think when I start work on a new transaction, particularly if, let’s say, I’m on the buy side on a deal, so we’re advising the buyer looking at a target, I think I’m always curious to learn as much about the target business as possible. And there’s the scope of work that you have to undertake, but trying to understand commercially what business does, what industry it operates in, who its key customers are, what its financials look like, really getting under the skin of all of that I think is really interesting. And I think it’s really important for an M&A lawyer to do that because the more commercial understanding you have better. I think that’s one point.
I think, although I’m essentially an M&A lawyer, I’ve always been quite interested in the tax aspects of deals. And I would definitely not hold myself out as a tax expert, and I have plenty of tax colleagues that know a lot more about tax than I do, but I continue to be curious about it. I’m always trying to learn more in that area.
And then I think the third point I’d make is that as well as co-leading, they cross over between the ILN and the US because the ILN has such a big presence in the US. But I’ve always done quite a lot of work for US clients doing inbound deals into the UK, and so I’m interested in how the UK and the US can increase the amount of business that they do, transatlantically. It’s a country I’m quite close to. One of my brothers lives in the US. He lives in Atlanta, so I feel like I’ve got sort of strong connections to the US. And so I’m curious about, don’t know if I’m answering the question in the right way, but I’m curious about how we can grow our business between the US and the UK.
And I think there’s an interesting point there because for the UK post-Brexit, one of the obvious places for the UK to turn its attention to is the US, and the US has obviously always been a huge trading partner for the UK, a very significant trading partner. I think it would be a fantastic thing if at some point there was a meaningful UK/US free trade agreement that wasn’t just like a bulk standard free trade agreement, but there was a sort of game-changing free trade agreement. It seems difficult to envisage that’s going to happen anytime soon because it doesn’t really seem to be at the top of President Biden’s in-tray, but maybe at some point that will become a possibility, and I think it would be good if it did.
Lindsay: That would be really nice, but I think you’re right. I think President Biden has other things he’s worried about at the moment, but anything’s possible. Anything’s possible. Switching gears, tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
Anthony: Okay. Nothing to do with work, but I took up triathlon about eight years ago.
Anthony: And for our listeners that don’t know what triathlon is, it’s a multi-sport discipline comprising open-water swimming, then cycling, then running over a particular distance as quickly as possible. And I think I’ve done maybe about 17 or 18 triathlons now.
Anthony: But the big achievement for me was that I managed to complete an Ironman distance triathlon in June of last year.
Anthony: So June 2021, which was in England, and should I explain what the distances are?
Lindsay: Yes. I think people need to know because it’s very impressive.
Anthony: An Ironman distance triathlon is a 2.4-mile swim, which is about 3.8 kilometers, and then a 112-mile bike, which is about 180 kilometers, 180, and then a marathon, and it took me about 14 hours. In these events, you’re generally time limited to 17, and if you don’t make it by 17 hours, then you get disqualified. So, I did it at about 14. I was hoping to do it in about 12 and a half, but that proved incredibly optimistic. It kind of went a bit wrong for me on the run, as it often does for first-time Ironman athletes. And I think the world record … Well, actually there was an attempt to go under seven hours by the very best Ironman athletes this summer, and they managed to do it.
Anthony: But they only managed to do it by what’s called drafting on the bike, which is where they were basically in a sort of … like riding in the Peloton in the Tour de France. If you ride in a group, you can go much faster. So, I’ve worked out, I’m about half the speed of the top athletes in the world, which I’ll take.
And it was a pretty amazing experience because, I mean, you have to train for that sort of event for about a year, and it takes a long time to prepare yourself physically and mentally. I mean, there are lots of stories I could tell about it, but I think just one I’ll relay is that when you turn up for an event like that, and you arrive in the sort of transition area, it’s quite interesting because half the people have done one before and so they know what they’re letting themselves in for, and they’re kind of calm and not relaxed, but they’re okay. And then the other half, you haven’t done one before, which included me, are kind of crapping themselves and on a full-on adrenaline rush, and that all felt pretty extreme, the whole experience of turning up on the morning.
But it was an amazing experience, and a lot of it really is about the journey through the training and what it teaches you about yourself and your body and your mind and your spirit and all those things. Actually, when you get to the start line, 99.9% of the work is done. You just have to try and get through the day, and I managed to get through it. And yeah, it was a pretty cool experience. I’m not sure I want to repeat it anytime soon, just because of the sheer volume of training. It just took up a lot of time. A lot of very early morning starts before work. But yeah, if anyone wants to learn more about the whole experience, please do reach out to me. I’ll be happy to talk to them about it.
Lindsay: That’s really amazing. Congratulations. I’m a marathoner, so I know what kind of commitment the marathon requires. And I know some triathletes and I know some Ironmen, and so I understand the full commitment that the Ironman requires, and for our listeners that don’t know, it’s really quite something, so congratulations.
Anthony: Thank you. Thank you.
Lindsay: That’s really something. That’s amazing. And yeah, I can only imagine what it’s like to turn up, not knowing what you’re really getting yourself into.
Anthony: Yeah. Well, when I got dropped off, well, my wife dropped me off, and when you start these events, you go off at 6:00 in the morning, so you have to turn up at 4:30 or whatever before the sun comes up. And she dropped me off and burst into tears thinking I wasn’t going to make it through the day, so yeah, it’s definitely an emotional experience.
Lindsay: Mm-hmm, absolutely. Absolutely. And I mean, there’s so much. There’s the actual events themselves and then there’s so much skill in the transition too, so it’s really-
Anthony: Well, not where I’m concerned, Lindsay. My transition skills are not … they need to be worked on, shall we say.
Lindsay: Well, for the next one.
Lindsay: Who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Anthony: Ah, it’s quite a tough question, that. I mean, I can’t say hand on heart, there’s been one particular mentor that has guided me through my career, perhaps to my disadvantage. I think what I would say is say, I’ve been at three firms in my career before Fladgate. I was at a firm called RPC, but before that, the firm I really grew up in was a firm called SJ Berwin, which some of our listeners may have heard of. And in its time, it was sort of the preeminent private equity, real estate, and fund formation firm in the UK. And it was an amazing firm because it only started in 1982 by the eponymous founder, a guy called Stanley Berwin. It actually went bust in 2016 in the UK’s biggest law firm merger … the biggest law firm failure, I should say, and I was there from 2000 to 2013. I was an associate for eight years, then a partner.
In my time there, I had lots of mentors because the firm was, in its time, it was sort of really trailblazing because it was the first firm in the UK to try to emulate the US model of being quite responsive to clients, being really proactive as opposed to reactive. Almost taking a sort of like investment banking type approach to law rather than what, for a long time in the legal industry … I think before I started in the ’70s and ’80s, the commercial law firms were not slow-paced, but they were a bit more reactive. They didn’t behave in the same way that law firms behave now. I think we now all take it for granted, but we have to be very responsive. We have to try and solve problems for clients.
The skillset now is different, but in the UK, I think SJ Berwin was really one of the firms that trailblazed in that regard. And so there were lots of senior lawyers at the time that I fed off and learned a huge amount from. In terms of one of the cultural things, there was, you always replied to a client’s email that day. Even if it was to say, “I don’t have an answer for you yet. I’ll come back to you tomorrow,” or, “I’ll come back to you in a few days’ time,” or, “This is what we need,” there was a culture of you have to respond that day. And there were just some absolutely brilliant lawyers in the building who intellectually were outstanding, and so I think I had a lot of mentors. I’m not sure I want to mention any of them by name on this podcast, but there were many people that I learned a lot from.
One of the apocryphal stories about that firm was that Stanley Berwin, the founder, he actually died before … I think he died in 1985, a few years after he had started the firm. But one of the stories about him was that when he started the firm, every bit of correspondence that the firm sent out there was a sort of white, a pink, and a blue. And the white letter was, this was all pre-email of course, but the white email was the one that got sent to the client, the blue one was the one that got put on the file, and the pink one was the one that got sent to Stanley.
Every single night he would read every single bit of correspondence that every lawyer in the firm sent out. And if he’d made any grammatical error, nothing like a legal error, if he’d just made a grammatical error, a spelling mistake, anything like that, he would haul you into his office the next day for a bollocking. Some people now might say, “Well, that’s inappropriate,” but arguably it created a culture of excellence. And I think that’s a really important point, and one that’s lived with me, actually, throughout my career.
Lindsay: I can imagine. I think I’ve heard from a number of lawyers that very similar situations where they have had multiple mentors rather than one that has stuck out to them, and I feel that it really benefits people when that’s the case. Not that there’s any one right path to mentorship. I think all of them benefit us, and however, we get to where we are.
What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career?
Anthony: Well, I think early on in my career, I’m not sure I was a very good listener, and I think I’ve worked quite hard on my listening skills because you have to listen really hard and really hear what people are saying. Otherwise, I think you get a bit stuck, so I think that’s one lesson, just keep listening. Don’t always be in transmit mode. Sometimes you just need to be in receiving mode.
I think the second point is, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions until you really understand the point, and one question usually doesn’t cut it. It usually requires a whole series of questions before you really get to the bottom of what’s going on and you have a true comprehension of things. Because until you get to that point where you really understand what’s going on, it’s then very difficult to work out what your next steps should be.
And then I think, just in terms of the art of deals and being an M&A lawyer, I think as you become more senior, I think it’s important to try and control the narrative in terms of what’s being talked about, what are the important points on the deal, what should be prioritized. And obviously, that’s a discussion that you need to be having constantly with your client, but it’s not a conversation you should be afraid to have, because I think ultimately that’s how you add value in the process.
Lindsay: Wonderful. Those are great points. And one final question before we wrap up, this has nothing to do with work or what’s going on in the world, but that is, what are you enjoying right now?
Anthony: What am I enjoying? I’m quite enjoying the new Game of Thrones prequel, which has just started. That’s pretty good. I’ve just come back from a nice trip to Spain with my family, which was great fun. And before that, my wife and I had a weekend in Greece without the children.
Lindsay: That’s nice.
Anthony: Which was also good fun. I feel quite fortunate, everyone seems to be healthy and sort of reasonably happy, and work is going pretty well. So yeah, I think that there are lots of people having a very tough time out there, so I feel quite blessed that I’m sort of doing okay.
Lindsay: That’s really wonderful. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us this week, and thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much to all of our listeners as well for joining us. We’ll be back next week with another guest. And in the meantime, if you can take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe over on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, we would really appreciate it, and thank you so much.