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Inside out: Taking a GC's gaming expertise to market

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United Kingdom

Tech M&A specialist and former All-American runner Brian Chadwick on what he’s learned about moving from an in-house role at an online mobile games company to private practice.

Moving back into private practice means a change of narrative for an in-house lawyer.

I joined my previous company – the online games publisher, Miniclip – when it was quite small in terms of turnover.

Over a fairly short period, we transitioned the company to a mobile games publisher and developer, which triggered its stratospheric growth to become one of the top 10 in its field, which is when it became a takeover target.

Having assisted in building up the business for several years, I helped to sell the company to China's Tencent in a worldwide auction process in my role as general counsel (GC). 

After that, I decided I'd earned some time off.

When I felt the urge to come back, I wanted a change of scene and private practice beckoned. I had the luxury of being able to choose a firm which I thought would be the best fit for me.

I was also lucky to be brought in as a partner, more or less straight from an in-house role.

Once you're in a firm, you have to make the contacts you made when you were in-house work for you.

You might have hundreds of C-suite names in your phone book, but unless they want to be your clients, that's just a Christmas card list.

I had great relationships with the boards of some amazing companies, but they saw me as a friend, rather than an M&A lawyer.

It’s about getting those people who’ve known you for 20 years as the "games guy" to think of you as "an M&A lawyer, who happens to know a lot about games".

“I am lucky to have some very innovative colleagues”

I liked that Fieldfisher gave me the opportunity to build a strategy for tech M&A around me and my experience.

From where I was sitting as a partner in a large corporate team at a leading European firm, I knew one of the challenges would be to differentiate the M&A offering from the other expertise, such as our equity capital markets practice, which is one of the strongest in London.

There is also the challenge of selling your expertise to other specialists in the firm. For example, I am the corporate representative within the firm's excellent tech sector group.

It's important to think about how you cross-sell yourself internally and I am lucky to have some very innovative colleagues who come up with novel ways of sharing ideas, that aren’t just getting us all to sit down together in a stuffy meeting room for an hour a month.

These meetings are very forward-looking, very positive and reinforce a sense of purpose.

As well as my tech M&A experience, I can offer a GC's perspective, which is useful when tailoring pitches.

Things change so quickly, especially in the tech world, so even my fairly recent experience of what GC’s want to see from M&A lawyers might not be right up to date.

I find it's crucial to maintain links with in-house lawyers and business leaders (in my case) in digital entertainment companies, to keep track of their priorities and market trends.

For me, it's always about the next ball. You've got to keep going and thinking about the next opportunity, without getting hung up on things that didn't work or getting too excited about recent successes.

“Methodology and success”

Being an American means I didn’t always get things quite right when I first approached prospective British or European clients in my role as an M&A partner.

The American methodology is quite direct and familiar, which doesn't always go down well when you are introducing yourself to a UK or European GC for the first time.

I’ve learned the hard way how people want to be spoken to, but it was a valuable lesson.

With others, you might have a great relationship with a GC or members of a board, but for some reason you don’t quite get over the line when it comes to being instructed by the shareholders on M&A deals.

In these situations, you need to go back over your arsenal and think about what it is that client is looking for that you aren't demonstrating. You need to put in a lot of hard yards.

Working with small companies in particular is tough, because not all of them will be winners. But if you can cement a relationship with a company that goes on to be the next Netflix or Facebook, you are in a good place.

For the really big deals, it's like being a Ferrari salesman – you're probably only going to sell a couple a year, and there will be a lot of sales you don’t close, but when you do get them, it’s worth it.

Being part of a full-service law firm with an international presence means you always have the opportunity to put something forward that will be useful to clients, even if it isn't your own particular area of expertise. 

This aspect has helped me the most in building the practice. 

I always do my best to make sure I don’t come away from a meeting empty-handed – whether it's an introduction for a colleague, or just some feedback on how to do things differently next time around.

Track record and brand recognition are really important when it comes to M&A, but so is the person and the face.

I still have things to learn about private practice, but my field of tech M&A is a really exciting place to be at the moment. We are looking forward to some exciting deals in the sector.

Brian Chadwick is Co-head of tech M&A at European law firm, Fieldfisher.