One night in late April, Dentons partner Karl Hopkins was hobnobbing at the Swiss Hotel in Istanbul with Jim Jones, a retired four-star U.S. Marine Corps General and former National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama.
The pair recently banded together and have announced that Jones will join Dentons as a senior advisor, a role in which he will attend client pitches, refer work to the firm and agree to advise its clients on security-related and other issues.
Both were in Istanbul for a meeting of the NATO-focused think tank, the Atlantic Council, which Hopkins represents pro bono, and which Jones is closely affiliated with, chairing one of its boards. Through the organization, they cultivated a relationship, which Hopkins explained, sparked the idea of a business relationship. He said that because the geopolitical landscape is constantly in flux — Britons voted to withdraw from the European Union, Syria and other parts of the Middle East are in turmoil — his firms’ clients are interested in Jones’ advisory services.
By signing a commercial contract with Jones to help advise clients, the firm hopes to differentiate itself in the tight market for legal services and win more business.
“Clients are looking for more integrated, complete solutions particularly in the international space,” Hopkins told Big Law Business. “Just the scope of legal advice is no longer sufficient, you have to be able to integrate other perspectives.”
Jones is not the only nonlawyer that the firm has added to its ranks: In 2016, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a strategic affiliation with the firm to “provide advice to clients on market access, managing global geopolitical and economic risk, and how to maximize value in global markets.” And former Congressman Newt Gingrich and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, both nonlawyers, are also advisors to the firm.
It’s a play that other giant global firms have used to their advantage as well: DLA Piper, for instance, calls Spain’s former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, one of its senior advisors. Although Aznar is not listed on the firm’s website, he has helped the firm plant roots in South America — where it has offices in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru.
On its website, DLA Piper credits Aznar for playing a role in brokering a “cooperation agreement” with a law firm in Colombia, Martinez Neira Abogados, where firm leaders met with the country’s president as well as other government officials and business leaders, according to a press release.
Other firms have added nonlawyers as policy experts in healthcare law or technical experts in cybersecurity.
At Dentons, one project that caught the eye of Jones and Hopkins is the “Three Seas Initiative,” a massive investment in energy infrastucture by 12 countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas. Later this summer, in Poland, leaders from the countries involved will hold a planning session for the project, which may involve building an energy pipeline as well as transportation and communications transmissions corridors, designed to offset Russia’s influence on the region, Jones said.
“It’ll be a huge opportunity for the U.S. private sector,” he said, adding, ”You need a company like Dentons that has a global presence and can tackle the myriad legal framework issues.”
Hopkins explained that no work has started on the project yet, but when it does, the firm hypothetically could seek to represent an energy company building part of a transmission line. That’s when Jones’ experience may come in handy if he can advise the client on what it’s like to work with a particular government or leader, he said.
The agreement with Jones, who previously had an arrangement with Akin Gump, dictates that he won’t pitch his advisory services with any other firms. His billing will vary depending on client needs, said Hopkins.
“Just being able to provide world class legal counsel is not enough,” he said, “you have to be able to provide other types of advice in the boardroom…. With all the world is going through, and the reactions to many years of globalization — there’s a populist movement in many countries, a nationalist movement in some — … its advantageous to have someone like General Jones who has a depth of experience.”