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The firm that knows no frontiers

Eversheds is proving that lawyers can be general business advisers. By Roger Trapp
The battle between lawyers and accountants has appeared so one- sided of late that it is hardly surprising that Eversheds, the national law firm, is in ebullient mood after being appointed exclusive representative in the UK and Ireland of the Berlin and Brandenburg Economic Development Corporations, after stiff competition against, it is believed, a Big Six consulting firm.

Peter Cole, Eversheds' national managing partner, is the first to agree that the appointment has little to do with law. But at a time when the large accounting firms - especially Arthur Andersen and Price Waterhouse - are making serious encroachments on solicitors' territory, he thinks it is time that firms broadened their remit.

His organisation encourages its 1,000-odd lawyers to be general business advisers rather than take a purist approach, on the grounds that it "strengthens the relationship with the client".

"Most of it is common-sense business advice that I would be expecting our lawyers to give all the time," he adds.

Mr Cole will be running Eversheds Consulting, an arm set up in response to winning the German business, but neither he nor any other member of the firm's professional staff will deal with it exclusively. Instead, there will be regional account managers, responsible for encouraging colleagues with clients thinking of expanding to put forward Berlin and Brandenburg as possible locations. In addition, Clive Vokes, a former official with the Welsh Development Agency, is coaching the management on the best sort of approach.

Eversheds believes it won the appointment on the strength of its national network of offices, its good contacts with German business and its general commercial approach. It will be involved in marketing the city of Berlin and the neighbouring state of Brandenburg to potential investors and in encouraging investment in the region. The main targets will be British companies, but American and other overseas companies that have set up in Britain as a launching pad for expansion into mainland Europe will also be looked at.

Destined to be the capital of the reunited Germany in several years' time, Berlin is expected to grow fast in the coming years. Already the largest industrial conurbation between Paris and Moscow, it will soon be linked via a high-speed railway line with Paris and Warsaw and will have an international airport with an estimated capacity of 30 million passengers.

The region could become the star of a new business for Mr Cole, and he admits that the firm will be looking to build on the experience. He adds, however, that Eversheds does not plan to take on any other appointments that put it in conflict with Berlin and Brandenburg, but he will be looking to do "similar things in other parts of the world".

The firm has already pitched for a role in redeveloping of one of the former Soviet republics. Most of the work would be purely legal, but some of it would be in consulting, says Mr Cole, adding that the large accountancy firms crossed the somewhat fuzzy line between their core practice and supplying other services some time ago.

Although Clifford Chance, the UK's largest law firm, set up an employee benefits consultancy some years ago, Mr Cole is not aware that any other firm is moving in the direction that Eversheds has taken. Nevertheless, he expects the more go-ahead firms to follow suit, if they are not already heading that way.

"The key for us was that there had to be synergy between this and the mainstream legal work," he says. As lawyers move towards advising clients on transactions, the range of assignments passing the litmus test is likely to widen.