Featured interview: Steve Smith, Partner, Eversheds Sutherland

Steve SmithThis week we spoke with new White Collar Crime Partner at Eversheds Sutherland Steve Smith. Joining the firm from Nomura, where he was deputy head of financial crime for EMEA, Steve will be returning to private practice as the newest addition to Eversheds Sutherland’s Corporate Crime and Investigations team.

We discussed with Steve how he plans to navigate this shift from an in-house role into a law firm partnership, his reasons for the move, as well as his thoughts on the what the financial crime and investigations landscape will look like in 2019. We hope you enjoy!

Steve, you started your career with almost 10 years in private practice, following which you’ve had long stints at the FCA and Barclays, and most recently taken the role of Deputy MLRO at Nomura. It sounds like your career has evolved organically, why private practice now and is this your greatest challenge yet?

It wasn’t my intention to move back to private practice, but the opportunity at Eversheds Sutherland came along and it was something I couldn’t pass up. I believe the firm is going in the right direction, with a good group of people and reputation in the market.

I would see this as the final step in my career plan and an opportunity to bring my unique experience to the fore to help clients navigate what is an increasingly complex financial crime environment.

It’s certainly a challenge to go back into private practice where you’re looking to build new business and develop new client relationships. It’s now a test to find out whether the approach that I took by leaving private practice to gain extra skills as a prosecutor and working in-house will help me stand out as being able to bring different value to the table than an adviser with more traditional experience.

What exactly drew you to Eversheds Sutherland?

There are a number of positives that have impressed me about the firm. Very early in the interview process, the senior management team really impressed me as being approachable, down-to-earth individuals who are easy to both engage with and work closely with.

I also feel that the firm itself is well placed for my kind of work in that, it’s not just a national firm but a global firm, which is driving positively forward and looking to gain new angles and new revenue streams. It is an exciting place to be! It provides a great platform to act for a wide range of clients from individuals through to global corporates which is a massive advantage for a white collar practice.

What particularly shone through was the commerciality of their people. I think the firm has certainly attracted those with in-house experience – many of the partners within the firm’s Financial Services Disputes & Investigations (FSDI) practice have experience in the FCA, a financial institution, or the industry in some way, which I feel is the ideal mix and provides a great angle to advise from.

Having worked on the client side, you learn that the range of legal advice on offer from firms can differ. Some firms offer highly technical advice that is hard to apply to your business, whilst others are much more practical, which I prefer. Eversheds’ corporate crime team were one of the firms that had a fantastic balance in being able to provide good technical expertise, but with the in-house knowledge to make it practical and applied to the issue in hand.  For me, in what is a fairly congested legal market, it is that kind of approach that makes Eversheds stand out from other firms.

And finally the Consulting group really differentiates the firm in my view. With the experience of having gone through two major CDD remediation projects when working in-house and working in AML advisory, it was a “no-brainer” for me to see the added value for clients in a law firm being able to provide both legal advice and also have the resource capability to help resolve remediation needs. To my knowledge, this a unique offering in a field that fits well with my experience. I feel this is an area of the business where I can really help Eversheds get that product right for clients, having been a client of a number of consulting firms and knowing the challenges this can bring. Hopefully having been a client, I can now help get the offering right for our clients!

Having been in a senior in-house role for approximately 8 years, and gained first-hand experience of the Senior Manager’s Regime, do you think it will change the way you offer legal advice?

I think there is now more of a healthy tension between the firm and its senior managers. That is to say, when a senior manager is expected to sign something off, there is now a greater rigour around that process.

I think we will find more lawyers advising on the same issue, with firms recognising that at times both the firm and senior managers will need separate legal advice. A good example is the increasing requirement from the FCA that senior managers provide attestations about areas of their business. (Attestation is a formal statement made by a firm, and senior managers within them, which ensures they are accountable to taking actions that the FCA had required.) 

Certainly if I was advising a firm, I would be flagging to those senior managers that there will be circumstances where they should think about getting advice around what they’re signing off to you. There is certainly an increasing (although not unhealthy) tension between the firm and the senior managers in this situation.

What does the next 12 months look like for you?  

I’ll predominantly be looking to get to know my colleagues’ clients better. I think it will be important to get an in-depth understanding of our existing clients, and figure out exactly how my skill set can benefit them. We also have a really a great market abuse practice here, so I will be finding out how my experience in this area can contribute to this.

What’s to come in the New Year within financial crime and investigations?

I think the impact of Brexit will be interesting, and how that will affect money laundering legislation and the regulation of financial crime. For example, it will raise new challenges to prosecuting authorities in the sharing of information. It will also cause global firms to have to review their current procedures and how they share information between the UK and EU post-Brexit.

Looking at the development of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in 2019 will also be interesting. What will come from the new management? How will the new management team impact their prosecuting priorities and will they be more emboldened in bringing cases against big financial institutions given this would sit comfortably with the background of Lisa Osofsky?

From an FCA perspective, it may have been relatively quiet in terms of enforcement outcomes for 2018, but they have been very busy in enforcement investigations, so I think we will see a flurry of enforcement outcomes in 2019 as these investigations conclude.

What would you say to others that are in your position that are looking to make that step back to private practice? What do they need to be mindful of and get right in order to know that they’ll make a success of this move?

I think first of all, coming from an in-house role, you should recognise that you will not have an immediate client base and it will take time to build one. So you should find a firm that is supportive of this and, ideally, has an existing desk of work for you to get involved in. I believe that work generates more work, so having an existing team for you to add value to is very important

Secondly, do your due diligence on the firm – especially those who you will be working with. Find out from those you know in the market what their experience has been of working with them and what their reputation is. I would also place a lot of value in how enthusiastic the firm been about bringing you on board and the efforts of the team has taken to get to know you.

It was a massive pull that Eversheds’ senior management invested a lot of time speaking to me about the practice, the firm, their awareness of the challenges I’ll be facing moving from an in-house role, and how they intended to support me in achieving a soft landing here. Actions such as introducing me to the wider partnership and talking through new developments in the pipeline, all helped me feel genuinely wanted and welcome here.

In terms of positioning yourself, I think that there is a lot of added value in having experience at a regulator and/or in-house. It is, however, important to broaden your remit as much as you can, ensuring that if you do decide to return to private practice, you can truly benefit from your wider experience.