Law firms cope with rollover policy

Despite some challenges several of Cayman’s law firms are reporting so far, so good when it comes to the seven-year term limit policy for expatriates.

All four of the firms that responded to a Caymanian Compass inquiry about the effects of the rollover policy on the legal profession said their firms were continuing to expand.

Huw Moses, managing partner of Appleby said the future looks promising for his firm.

‘Overall, the rollover cannot be said to have had a negative effect – at least not yet – on our Cayman practice,’ he said.

Mr. Moses said several attorneys and senior administrative staff had sought Permanent Residency and the firm had made a few applications for key employee status.

‘To date, we have considered the results of these applications to be fair and reasonable and it is pleasing to see an apparent recognition of these individual’s professional expertise and contribution to the community,’ he said. ‘Indeed, I would go as far as to say encouraging from a point of view of continuity of business and ultimately our ability to employ, train and advance an increasing number of Caymanians.’

James Bergstrom, managing partner of Ogier, said the rollover should be looked at from two categories, lawyers and support staff.

So far, Ogier has not found the rollover policy to be a significant factor with attorneys.

‘I suspect this is because some of the candidates are on a five-year plan, whilst others think that due to their qualifications, they will be exempt when the time comes,’ he said.

Mr. Bergstrom said the rollover would become an issue if any good corporate, commercial or finance lawyers are rolled over and not given key employee status.

‘Likewise, if a number of candidates are given key employee status and then permanent residence, it could actually attract candidates.’

The support staff at Ogier has been more impacted by the rollover policy, Mr. Bergstrom said.

‘We have had a number of good senior secretaries rolled over at a time when it is tough to find replacements,’ he said. ‘This has certainly impacted our overall productivity.’

Mr. Bergstrom said he understood and supported the reasoning behind the rollover policy.

‘But there is room to help businesses by the sensible application by the boards of their discretion in granting key employee status,’ he said. ‘For instance, not all support staff will be key, but there are a few in each organisation who really make a difference and businesses ought to be able to nominate a few support staff for key employee status.’

Mr. Bergstrom suggested the Immigration Boards’ discretion in granting key employee status to certain categories of support staff ‘can be adapted from time to time as the local labour market matures’.

‘If the [rollover] policy is intelligently applied with open communication between law firms and the [Immigration] Boards, it could work very well,’ he said. ‘If the boards are staffed by individuals who do not understand the markets we are dealing in and the difficulties we face in finding and retaining talent, then it could cripple our operations in Cayman.’

Recruiting talent is a challenge facing all law firms, but not just because of Cayman’s rollover policy, said Appleby’s Mr. Moses.

‘Recruitment is difficult and several factors no doubt account for the difficulties, including the strengthening of world currencies against the US dollar and competition from other jurisdictions also seeking to recruit,’ he said. ‘The existence of our rollover provisions has an effect in that it may lead an applicant to seek a position in a jurisdiction where rollover concerns do no presently exist, such as the BVI, if the offers made from Cayman and the BVI are otherwise comparable.’

Despite the added challenges presented in recruitment by the rollover policy, Mr. Moses said he had noticed no change in the quality or age of recruited personnel, or in the time it takes to recruit them.

Appleby, in fact, welcomed two senior lawyers this month, litigator Graeme Halkerston from London and real estate attorney Adam Geldard from Australia.

In spite of its success, it is difficult for Appleby to completely gauge the effects of rollover on recruitment.

‘We have not yet had an applicant say they are declining an offer because of the rollover, but we cannot assess how many good applicants are not applying to Cayman because of their perception of the effect of the rollover provision,’ Mr. Moses said.

Another local firm, Conyers Dill and Pearman, has also been successful recruiting new attorneys. Since it commenced a law practice here in July 2003, the firm has recruited 12 attorneys, Managing Partner Richard Finlay said. It recently launched a litigation department with two new attorneys, including Nigel Meeson a QC from London.

‘Nigel is a very senior English barrister. We were lucky to get him.’

Mr. Finlay said the rollover policy was explained to Mr. Meeson before he was hired.

‘He wasn’t fazed at all,’ he said.

Mr. Finlay said recruitment has always been a challenge in the Cayman Islands and that he did not find recruitments any more difficult or lengthy since the rollover policy began.

‘We’ve hired four lawyers in pretty quick succession,’ he said. ‘I think we did very well.’

CD&P hasn’t made any recent applications for key employee status, but it will in the future.

‘We certainly have a hope someone like Nigel would be considered a key employee,’ he said. ‘But there are not guarantees.’

Ogier’s Mr. Bergstrom believes that if good lawyers are rolled over, they would not have difficulty finding employment with competitor offshore jurisdictions.

‘My view is that if the policy is sensibly applied and not abused, the system should work,’ he said. ‘For instance, I do not think key employee status should be applied for until a lawyer has been with the firm for, say, three years – long enough to know that they are a long-term prospect for the firm and the Island.’

Another law firm that has experienced growth is Quin and Hampson. The growth occurred even before its announced merger with Mourant in July.

Senior Partner Charles Quin said he hasn’t found the recruitment process any more difficult than before the rollover policy.

‘I would say we are getting more questions asked by potential candidates,’ he said.

Other than that, Mr. Quin said his firm hasn’t been negatively affected by the rollover policy.

‘Two good lawyers have been granted key employee status,’ he said. ‘As far as how the rollover policy has affected us, in our experience it has been fairly and reasonably administered. We have no complaints.’

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