Business Law Currents: What were some of the factors that drew you to Nelson Mullins?
GD: I had been a runner with Nelson Mullins when I was in college. Then I was a law clerk here, before working for another firm for a couple of years. When I look back, what primarily drove my decision to return to Nelson Mullins were the people at the firm. They are a great group to work with.
The firm’s vision also appealed to me. It was a law firm that was focused on growing and becoming a full service firm – a vision that focused on developing the younger lawyers. When you came in as a young lawyer, you were very quickly encouraged and coached in developing your own practice and your own relationships. I just thought it was a great opportunity to come into a firm with that kind of vision and that kind of support.
Business Law Currents: What was an important lesson you learned early in your career that you’ve kept close to your heart?
GD: I learned very early that relationships are really important. Whether its relationships with the attorneys and staff within the law firm, or with people in the community, leaders of business, clients, potential clients, opposing counsel, referral sources, or others, relationships are critical, both to being able to generate work and to getting work done. The way that you develop those relationships is to be responsive to people and to have integrity. Developing a strong reputation really starts with developing those relationships.
Business Law Currents: How would you describe your current practice?
GD: It’s really a corporate counseling and transactional practice. I almost always represent companies and I typically assist the companies with a wide variety of matters. Then, when transactional matters arise, whether it is raising capital or a sale or acquisition, I usually handle those transactions.
Business Law Currents: So your practice really blurs the line between M&A, securities advisory work and the other traditional practice areas?
GD: Yes. Of course, we have various experts within the law firm that I bring in as appropriate, but as a general rule I usually serve as the point person in helping my clients work through a variety of business issues and transactions.
Business Law Currents: What key skills do you need to thrive in a broad advisory practice?
GD: This goes back to the relationships issue that I mentioned before. You have to be good at dealing with a wide variety of people and personalities, whether it’s management and boards of directors, outside investors, lenders or others. You really have to be able to see everyone’s perspective and figure out how to get them all pulling on the same oar so that things can get done.
Business Law Currents: Which of the transactions that you’ve worked on has been the most memorable?
GD: That is a good question because lawyers love their war stories.
When I was a relatively young associate at Nelson Mullins, I was asked to work on-site at a client that was a wholly owned subsidiary of a large telecommunications company that was for sale. It gave me the opportunity to see a transaction both from the perspective of the law firm that was working on it, and also from the perspective of being in-house at the plant. Seeing what employees went through, helping to prepare the disclosure schedules from the inside, and seeing the way issues came about was a really unique kind of experience. Being on site at a large company and working with the company's in house counsel and other personnel was particularly enlightening. It was a very interesting and useful experience to have early in my career.
Business Law Currents: How long did the process take?
GD: Well, it actually was funny because one of the reasons I was put on the deal was because I was getting married. The idea was that it would be something great for me to do before I got married, and then afterwards I would come back to the firm full time. Of course, as with many deals, it didn’t close when it was expected to. It ended up being a lot longer. But I really enjoyed it.
Business Law Currents: Are you seeing any trends with respects to deal-making within your client base?
GD: Yes. Right now I think our firm is pretty busy on the corporate side. A large part of our practice is in the middle market, and we are seeing a lot of activity, both with respect to capital raising and financings and mergers and acquisitions.
Generally speaking, we have stayed steadily busy, even during the economic downturn of the past several years. Frankly, deals take longer and the percentage of deals that close after a letter of intent has gotten smaller. It used to be that once you got to the LOI stage, you pretty well expected the deal to close. Today, we see more of the deals either not closing or taking a lot longer to close.
Business Law Currents: What would you attribute that to?
GD: I think companies are just being more careful and cautious, both on the buy and the sell side. Sellers are a little bit more worried about whom they are selling their business to, and both buyers and sellers are a little bit more focused on making sure they are getting what they really think they are getting.
There is more focus on the softer issues as well. You know, are we really going to get along with these people? Are we really going to fit within the organization? Because it seems people think more and more these days about cultural fits. You just hear that talked about a lot more, because it is a critical issue.
Business Law Currents: Business development is crucial to the success of a firm. Given the increase in competition and the economic pressures of today’s business landscape, what does your firm do to assist you with business development?
GD: One of the things that really drew me to Nelson Mullins was the fact that very early in an attorney’s career, Nelson Mullins encourages its attorneys to start thinking about their careers and to take ownership of those careers. As part of that, from very early on you get a lot of really good coaching, guidance and advice from other more senior lawyers within the law firm.
We also have various mechanisms in place, for example a director of marketing and a director of business development, who both spend time with our attorneys at all levels helping them with respect to both marketing and business development ideas. We have a number of seminars and panels on those topics. For example, I was recently on a panel at our last firm retreat for associates. It was all on business development; our business development director spoke and then there was a panel of young partners who have had success and they explained what they did.
One of the things that make Nelson Mullins such an enjoyable place to work is the way we hire people: we hope and expect they will be good at developing business. This tends to attract a particular personality type, usually a pretty friendly person and someone who is going to be good and responsive and produce high-quality work. And that makes Nelson Mullins a good place to work.
Nelson Mullins has always understood that business development is important and we want lawyers to get comfortable with that as quickly as they can. That said, one of the best business development drivers is service, so we expect our lawyers to provide high-quality, responsive service.
Business Law Currents: Speaking of junior associates, there’s been a lot of news in the industry about the challenges of training transactional attorneys. What type of approach does Nelson Mullins take to training young transactional attorneys?
GD: First, when we can, we try to hire young attorneys who have clerked -- particularly with us -- because clerking is an opportunity for us to spend some time helping them and training them. If they have done that, they already have a leg up when they enter the job market.
We also do spend a good amount of time training them and getting junior associates up to speed. Getting them hands on, client contact as quickly as we can is important to the firm. As a result, you’ll often find our second- or third-year associates are really working on a higher level and adding value.
Finally, the folks that we hire are good at what they do; they are intuitive and they grasp things pretty quickly.
Business Law Currents: There’s also been a trend of pushback from clients about billing for junior associates’ work. Have you experienced any of that?
GD: Being in the middle market, we are not a super-leveraged law firm. Typically our clients like getting a good amount of partner-level attention. When we do bring in associates, they are brought in for certain specific tasks. The work those associates are doing is the right level, and the client usually is glad to have them there because they are priced at the right rate and they are suited to get the work done.
Business Law Currents: What do you enjoy the most about being a transactional attorney?
GD: The satisfaction of getting deals closed. I enjoy deals because each one is different, each one has its own issues, but more importantly each one has its own unique personalities, both with your client and the other parties involved. It is just enjoyable to go through that process and at the end of the day, hopefully have a successful closing that’s a win-win for everybody.
Business Law Currents: What piece of advice would you give to a law student who is eying a career in transactional law?
GD: I think students need to understand and recognize that the job is very people-intensive. Sometimes young attorneys say, “I don’t really like to talk or speak that much, so I don’t think I’d be a good litigator.” Well, what do you think you’re going to be doing on the corporate side?
You’re going to be on the phone and in meetings, and you’re going to be having to use your art of persuasion on every deal because there is no judge or jury. At the end of the day, if you can’t persuade people to reach some common result, you’re not going to get deals done. So I think what a lot of people struggle with and don’t realize at first is that there is a significant amount of people interaction when it comes to doing corporate work and getting deals done.
(This interview was conducted by Kyle Chorba, a Senior Business Development Executive at Thomson Reuters)
Gus M. Dixon is a partner of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP and practices in Columbia, South Carolina in the areas of securities law, corporate law, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, corporate investigations, and technology law. Mr. Dixon is a co-leader of the Firm's Mergers and Acquisitions Group, Chair of the Firm's Opinion Committee and Chair of the Firm's Marketing Committee. His complete bio can be found here.
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