Cross-cultural translation is a major part of a lawyer’s job in international deals, says Daniel Brass, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, on this week’s Drinks With The Deal podcast. “You can be struck in negotiations in a cross-border deal for far, far longer than in a domestic deal purely by dint of the fact that people are not understanding each other,” he says. “It’s learning those cultural nuances and being able to explain them to the client that helps you drive a deal.”
Brass learned this lesson in a very personal way; after spending six years as an associate at Slaughter and May in London, he took a secondment at Davis Polk in New York and decided to stay. Not only did he have to learn U.S. corporate law; “Stylistically I had to adapt,” he says, by adopting a more direct style of communication.
And he had to focus on different issues. “People come to M&A transactions in the U.S. with a fear of liability which I think is much starker than potentially in the U.K. or Europe. There’s a mindset shift in having that front and center when talking to clients.”
The inability to travel during the coronavirus pandemic has made doing cross-border deals more difficult, Brass, who recently advised VF Corp. on its $2.1 billion agreement to buy Supreme Holdings Inc. from Carlyle Group Inc. and Goode Partners LLC. Similarly, he says, working remotely has made training associates more challenging.
“The partner’s greatest training tool is the mute button,” he says. “Having that mute button gives me the ability to stop the conversation and explain to someone [in my office] why I’ve just said what I said, why I’m about to say what I’m about to say, and, most importantly, allows me that 30 seconds to tee up an associate and say, ‘Why don’t you take the next issue? You understand it. In the context of the conversation this is how I would present it,’ and you give them that opportunity. I can’t do that on Zoom.”
Here’s the podcast: