“Very little that we do these days doesn’t cross borders, whether we actually perceive it or not,” says Thomas J. Benz ‘75, managing partner of Winston & Strawn’s London office, who has been putting together international deals as a London-based U.S. corporate lawyer since 1981.
“I’ve had the good fortune to take U.S. laws, including new regulations, and ask how you apply them in a cross-border context,” Benz continues. That skill has become increasingly important. “What looked like an American company twenty years ago is multinational today. Its major shareholders may be non-U.S. It may have acquired operations overseas, and many of its assets and revenues may be derived from overseas,” Benz says.
As a result, those companies not only must adhere to U.S. corporate law but also to laws in multiple jurisdictions. “The same conduct may be fine in one jurisdiction but not in another,” says Benz, who asserts he enjoys guiding clients through that sometimes bewildering environment.
One such transaction he worked on involved a shareholder dispute relating to a business in Russia. “We had a large team and worked constantly with local counsel in multiple jurisdictions, including Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. It was a fascinating juncture of law, culture, politics, everything you’d associate with the practice of law,” he says. The deal took four years and much determination and patience to resolve successfully. “But when you have parties from places like Russia, Greece, Japan, Africa, or elsewhere, it’s that much more interesting to see your way through it.”
“Tom is the consummate professional,” says Winston & Strawn partner Zoë Ashcroft.
“He has sound judgment, is commercially astute, and successfully combines natural gravitas with a great sense of humor.”
Benz, who grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was first drawn to things international when he spent his junior year of college in Fribourg, Switzerland. It was there that he met another Pennsylvanian far from home, Peggy Glah, whom he married in 1971.
In Bonn, Germany, in 1972, where Benz was studying foreign relations on an Adenauer fellowship, he and Peggy decided law school would be his next move, and Cornell would be the place to go. “It was a great Ivy League law school in a picturesque setting, and I couldn’t help notice it had its own Robert Trent Jones golf course,” says Benz, an avid golfer.
At Cornell, “the law curriculum was fascinating. It enhanced my desire to do something international on a broader scale,” Benz says. His time at the Law School coincided with Professor John Barceló’s formation of an international law specialization, which Benz pursued, becoming editor-in-chief of the Cornell International Law Journal.
In 1975, Benz began looking for jobs at firms that had offices overseas and nabbed one with Rogers & Wells. “I started to do work for a couple of partners in an area that few people worked in back then, Eurobonds—debt financing in the European markets,” he recalls. It was a fortuitous assignment. In 1981 the firm opened a London office and asked to Benz to join it. He and Peggy agreed that going abroad again “would be a fun thing to do.”
By 1987 the couple had three children and were deciding whether to return from London to the United States when the Philadelphia-based international law firm of Morgan Lewis asked Benz to help grow its London office. He was managing partner at the firm until 2003 (during which time he and Peggy had three more children), then moved to Winston & Strawn for a new challenge.
Benz, who is a U.S. and New York State lawyer, is the firm’s only lawyer who is not U.K.-qualified. A transformational change broadening the rules that govern who can practice law in England and Wales also has prompted many U.S. law firms to hire more U.K.-qualified lawyers as partners.
That’s a good development, says Benz. “The world we live in now is multicultural and multijurisdictional. It makes sense to adapt to it.”
~Linda Brandt Myers