Law Firms Strengthen Trade Practices Amid Policy Gyrations

Law firms are bolstering trade practices to help clients protect their products, supply chains and markets as Trump administration trade-policy gyrations over China, Europe, and NAFTA rattle global business.

King & Spalding announced it had hired former trade official, Bradford L. Ward, who worked in both the Obama and Trump administrations, as a partner in the firm’s Washington office.

Dechert and Hughes Hubbard & Reed also have added lawyers amid talk of a trade war that could affect a wider section of American manufacturers and the need for businesses to navigate possible new disruptions.

“One of the jobs of the trade lawyer is to explain the options to clients, and some clients may have been on the sidelines in the past but will now be affected,” said Ward.

He was referring to U.S. sanctions on aluminum and steel that were imposed on the European Union, Canada and Mexico last week and subsequent retaliation against American products.

“During my time in government, more companies had to consider trade when they made decisions,” said Ward, who spent nine years with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Advising Clients

Other law firms have been hiring as well. In April, Dechert hired trade lawyers F. Amanda DeBusk and Melissa Duffy from Hughes Hubbard & Reed. DeBusk, a U.S. Commerce Department veteran and expert in trade compliance and enforcement of export controls, is Dechert’s international trade chair.

At the time the two lawyers were brought aboard, Dechert policy committee chair Andrew J. Levander noted that they would be advising clients “across a range of key industries facing strategic international trade issues.”

In May, Hughes Hubbard & Reed hired Ryan Fayhee to head its sanctions, export controls and anti-money laundering group inside its international trade practice. Fayhee had served as the principal attorney overseeing export control and sanctions investigations and prosecutions at the Justice Department.

His hiring followed the firm’s addition last year of Dean Pinkert, a former commissioner and vice chair of the International Trade Commission, for its international trade practice.

Law firms, anticipating that the administration’s tough trade talk might turn into action at some point, have been building up their expertise.

King & Spalding in January recruited a World Trade Organization senior litigator, Rambod Behboodi, to Geneva where the trade body is located.

Disputes over tariffs and retaliatory penalties are expected to wind up in the WTO, which has been less visible of late because of the U.S. emphasis on bilateral agreements rather than global ones.

Akin Gump Bolster’s Group

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, another firm with major international trade expertise, has bolstered its 55-lawyer practice, said Tom McCarthy, the practice group head.

It hired Kevin J. Wolf, a former Commerce Department export expert, for its Washington office last year, and Jasper Helder, a lawyer with export control and sanctions experience, to practice in London in 2016.

Akin Gump also promoted two counsel last year to international trade partners, Christian C. Davis in Washington and Alan Yanovich, a litigator for international trade disputes, in Geneva.

“When these kinds of waves of trade actions come along, this can impact companies so they turn to law firms to manage change,” McCarthy said, referring to the current U.S. trade actions.

Practices Align Responsibilities

Most trade practices are aligned to deal with a range of issues. Lawyers focused on export controls, sanctions and national security are at one end of the spectrum while those centered on the North American Free Trade Agreement and policy at the other, said McCarthy, who specializes in export controls and sanctions.

But firms need expertise across the spectrum because quiet areas, like anti-dumping–protectionist tariffs that governments impose on foreign imports that may be priced below market value–can resurge, he said.

“All the areas are busy now because there is activity across the board,” he said.

In addition, there is continued uncertainty about trade fallout over Brexit, which is looming, he said. Another unforeseen area is aerospace, where companies are unwinding trade deals with Iran, and a new round of Russia-related U.S. sanctions is due to take effect June 5.