We interviewed Wally Martinez just as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold in the US. Here he tells us what he expects to see in the legal market in the coming months, as well as "changes for the positive that will come out of this crisis in terms of how we work."
Chambers Associate: Can you tell us about any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
Wally Martinez: Our fiscal year ended on March 31 and it was very interesting closing a fiscal year in the middle of a pandemic. Fortunately, due to the efforts of many, we had a very good year. It’s attributable to executing a strategy that focuses largely on specific industry sectors and trying to get the deepest penetration we can in those areas.
"Anyone who goes online or turns on the TV knows the challenges of cybersecurity are increasing."
We’ve had a terrific year in the capital markets practice. Our leading renewables practice is also doing exceptionally well, and our cybersecurity and privacy practice continues to be in high demand. Anyone who goes online or turns on the TV knows the challenges of cybersecurity are increasing over time, rather than decreasing. Our infrastructure practices continue to perform at a high level on the public partnership side, on the government side, and on the developer side. And our real estate practices again over delivered against plan.
CA: What is coming up in Hunton Andrews Kurth’s immediate future, considering both your financial year and the global pandemic?
WM: It was a fortunate year for the firm, and now as we move into the coming year, the world has hit pause. It’s had to because we’re all trying to save lives. This has taught us about the seeds you plant early on — spending money in having remote working capacity for thousands of people — those investments have paid off.
"We represent critical infrastructure clients who need to continue functioning. We’ve been called upon to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to keep them delivering those services."
We’re increasingly helping clients respond to Covid-19 challenges in the initial stages of this crisis. We represent critical infrastructure clients who need to continue functioning. We’ve been called upon to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to keep them delivering those services. Our lawyers who touch the finance space are quite busy as we help companies who’ve had massive hits to their top line weather the storm so they can be there for customers and employees when this ends. Our finance and restructuring lawyers are also helping clients navigate the stimulus programs the government has rolled out.
CA: How is Covid-19 going to affect contentious work at the firm?
WM: March was busy, and a lot of that was in response to the crisis. As time wears on, we’ll see continued impacts. Most courts across the United States are shut down except for the most time-sensitive matters like child custody and criminal cases, etc. Courts are not having jury trials. Some hearings are happening via Zoom. So, perhaps we’ll see the courts evolve a bit to solve this — at least until we have a situation where we can be back in close proximity to each other.
"There’s a silver lining on the advocacy side for associates. This is an opportunity to let our associates (who are very tech savvy) do advocacy work in that space a year or two ahead of their normal development period."
Across the entire country there are 50 different jurisdictions, plus territories, that have different rules. They’ve all been stopped at the same time. Because these cases have not gone away, we’ll see a squeeze on litigators to handle the big backlog of cases that will still exist once this is over.
There’s a silver lining on the advocacy side for associates. This is an opportunity to let our associates (who are very tech savvy) do advocacy work in that space a year or two ahead of their normal development period. That will help us get this work done and get it done at a high level. We’ll be able to pass responsibility along for enhanced development.
"Because the government has taken on a significant fiscal burden to make sure people have money in this crisis, we’re going to see a lot of public-private contracting. That will justify the investments we’ve made in building a robust public-private infrastructure practice."
CA: Once the pandemic is over, what do you envision in Hunton and the profession’s next few years?
WM: In the medium term, governments across the world are going to find ways to bring everyone back to work. Our infrastructure in the United States is going to have to improve. We haven’t seen the investment here like they have seen in Europe and Asia. Because the government has taken on a significant fiscal burden to make sure people have money in this crisis, we’re going to see a lot of public-private contracting. That will justify the investments we’ve made in building a robust public-private infrastructure practice. We’ll also see acceleration in what I’d call more esoteric capital markets work. How do we find a way to create a flow of capital to businesses in the current environment? We’ll see a lot of asset-backed securities and interesting things even for traditional players. We’ll also see additional work for labor and employment practices. They’re thinking about how we allow workforces to work differently, so they can continue with their operations in a lawful and compliant way.
As the economy comes back and people get back to the new normal, we’ll see a boost in those areas. Longer-term, our firm will continue to innovate in respect to what we do with our technology and our ways of working with our people.
"I’m the father of four millennials, and it’s common knowledge to them that we can get the job done wherever – and that flexibility matters. I was thrust into this role of managing partner when I just turned 39. I was that young person. And I’ve always felt that we have to listen to the next generation as early as we can possibly listen to them."
CA: How do you think working life at Hunton will change following the Covid-19 crisis?
WM: There will be some changes for the positive that will come out of this crisis in terms of how we work. Our firm global went to teleworking on March 16. We’re proving to ourselves that our technology investments were worth it. It has allowed us to continue to serve our clients, to close out a fiscal year and to face challenges that would be huge even under normal circumstances. The millennial generation will have an opportunity to say ‘I told you so’ about flexible work arrangements. What the new generation looks for is greater flexibility. They’ll be able to say ‘look at what we can do when we work from home.’ It will lead law firms like ours to begin thinking about things like what our office space looks like. Do our partners need to have larger offices? Do all of our lawyers need to have their own offices? We’ll move toward standard-sized offices and more investment on making a collaborative workspace. I’m the father of four millennials, and it’s common knowledge to them that we can get the job done wherever – and that flexibility matters. I was thrust into this role of managing partner when I just turned 39. I was that young person. And I’ve always felt that we have to listen to the next generation as early as we can possibly listen to them.
This may seem like a counterpoint to what I’ve said, but it’s not: as we move forward, I think there will be an emphasis on the importance of community in an organization. The efforts people are making at this firm during the crisis are amazing. We have a gathering at the New York office, a virtual happy hour this afternoon. People are organically meeting across the firm. No person is an island here and we need to do this socially. If we play our cards right, we’ll think of our relationships with each other in business as more than transactional. We’re all in this together and all part of looking after one another. So, talk to someone as opposed to simply texting them. Gather a group and have a cup of coffee, go out for lunch. That ultimately will lead to an even more aligned law firm.