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Expat on the Market: Frances Gerrard of CMS

Expat on the Market - Frances Gerrard of CMS

Czech Republic
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Frances Gerrard, a member of CMS’s Corporate and M&A team in Prague, is a long way from her home in Australia. We spoke to her about the path that brought her to the Czech capital.

CEELM: Run us through your background and how you ended up in your current role with CMS in Prague.

Frances: I went to law school in Australia and took on my first graduate legal role in 2008 at Dawson Harford & Partners, a boutique corporate and commercial law firm in Auckland, New Zealand, starting as a trainee while working towards and finishing my admissions exams. Although I grew up in Australia, my family has very strong ties to New Zealand and I spent a great deal of time there over the years. In late 2010 I moved in-house in Sydney with Metminco Limited, a mining exploration company with operations in Chile and Peru, again focusing primarily on corporate and commercial matters and M&A. Throughout those years, I spent a lot of time travelling to Europe, mostly to visit the Alps over the European winter, and a move to Europe was always in the back of my mind. It’s not uncommon for Australian-qualified lawyers to explore and take opportunities in London; however, with plentiful M&A opportunities, a unique emerging market feel, and offering a difficult cultural experience, Central Europe was more on my radar. I came across an online advertisement for what eventually turned into my current role current while I was working in Australia and thought it could be a perfect fit. As luck would have it, our managing partner, Helen Rodwell, is also Australian, and it didn’t take much for her to sell Prague and the opportunities at CMS. I joined the firm in January 2012.

CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years. 

Frances: My practice focuses primarily on acting for international investors (strategics and private equity) on acquisitions and disposals across Central & Eastern Europe. I specialize in private M&A, often on large-scale cross border transactions – managing the deal process from Day 1 through closing. I also routinely act for a number of insurers on the provision of warranty and indemnity insurance across the region. CMS has a fantastic breadth of presence and expertise across CEE and I work closely and in parallel with my colleagues in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary (to name a few!) who are invaluable in the entire process. 

Although I am based in Prague, the clients that I work with are based anywhere from London to New York to Asia. CMS has an incredible global network and the demonstrable number and quality of deals done by us in the CEE region year on year is a great credential. I am a firm believer in building a good rapport with individuals on both sides of a deal and in maintaining existing relationships after a deal is done. Building a network and a practice is an exercise in longevity – nothing happens overnight, but good relationships go a long way and are a key factor. Visibility and presence is also important, so I also try to frequent various networking events in Prague and international conferences in the region, particularly in the private equity and M&A space.    

CEELM: How would clients describe your style?

Frances: Commercial, pragmatic, and responsive.  

CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the English and Czech judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?

Frances: Primarily the various document and registration formalities involved in getting the deal done and the incorporation of English law concepts into Central and Eastern European transaction documentation, where there is not, in many cases, a significant body of case law. That said, deal documentation in the Czech Republic is more aligned than ever with what I would see as international market standard and the legal market here is well developed. Market trends in M&A also tend to differ when looking at CEE deals, as too do the specific issues or risks that crop up across the region, which make local knowledge and expertise important factors in every deal (as they would be in any jurisdiction).        

CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?

Frances: As my focus has primarily been on complex and cross-border transactions throughout the region, I have become aware of some of the key differences between, for example, transaction structures that would be possible in one jurisdiction but not another, and I have developed a feel for the rigidity of authorities in certain countries. I believe that particularly on multi-jurisdictional deals clients appreciate having a single point of contact that is aware of local differences that may affect the transaction and that can interpret various areas of advice provided by the local colleagues in the context of the wider transaction.

CEELM: Do you have any plans to move back to Australia?

Frances: While my friends and family back home might have something to say about it, I do not have any immediate or medium term plans to move back to Australia. I am from Sydney, which is a fabulous city; however, from both a professional and personal perspective, I feel very much at home in the Czech Republic and it is hard to pass up the quality of work/deal flow and European lifestyle.         

CEELM: Outside of the Czech Republic, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?

Frances: That is a tough one as I tend to enjoy most of the CEE countries I visit. Although, I spent a couple of months in Bucharest on a deal a few years ago and always look back fondly on the city. There are some great open, green spaces in and around the city and the city has a very interesting mix of old and new, which I like.         

CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Prague?

Frances: Prague becomes more and more cosmopolitan every year – the food scene in particular. I like to take visitors on a bit of a culinary tour of my favourite, new, and longstanding spots. If the season is right, I also like to explore the various food markets – the Naplavka farmers’ market is always a hit – and of course the beer gardens in Letna and Riegrovy Sady are a great place to enjoy the sun with some spectacular views of the city.

This Article was originally published in Issue 6.9 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

Czech Republic Knowledge Partner

HAVEL & PARTNERS, attorneys-at-law, with offices in Prague, Brno, Bratislava, Pilsen, Olomouc, and Ostrava, has a team of 250 lawyers, tax advisors and 500 employees in total, is the largest independent law firm in Central Europe.

Our clients include large international companies, leading Czech and Slovak firms, including strategic state-owned companies and public sector authorities, as well as medium-size businesses, individual entrepreneurs, and investors. We advise approximately  150 of the Fortune 500 companies, almost 50 of the Czech Top 100 companies and 20 of the TOP 100 Slovak companies. HAVEL & PARTNERS currently provides its services to a total of 2,500 clients. We have the most comprehensive international support available to both Czech and Slovak law firms. We provide legal and tax advice in 12 languages in more than 110 countries around the globe. Up to 70 % of the transactions we deal with involve an international aspect.

HAVEL & PARTNERS was named the best law firm operating in the Czech Republic by the prestigious global rating agencies Chambers and Partners (2020, 2021) and Who’s Who Legal (2018, 2019). It is also the most successful law firm, providing the most comprehensive legal services in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, based on the total number of all nominations and awards in all years of the Law Firm of the Year awards. The firm became the absolute winner of this competition four times in the last six years, receiving the main award Domestic Law Firm of the Year in the Czech Republic (2015, 2017, 2018, 2020) and ranking as one of the most recommended law firms in all categories of law. Our company is also a four -time winner of the Law Firm of the Year award for Best Client Services (2015, 2016, 2019, 2020). In the field of M&A, HAVEL & PARTNERS is the best law firm in the Czech Republic based on the annual International Advisory Experts awards (2018, 2019). Prestigious international rating agencies EMIS DealWatch and Mergermarket have ranked HAVEL & PARTNERS among the leading law firms by the number of transactions completed in the Czech Republic since 2010. Based on annual awards of the Acquisition International magazine, HAVEL & PARTNERS has become the Law Firm of the Year 2019 in the M&A category in the CEE region.

Firm's website: https://www.havelpartners.cz/en/

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