Q&A Louis de Gabriele - Partner at Camilleri Preziosi Advocates
The Report Company: What are the key aspects of your history that have brought you to today’s position as one of the partners of this law firm?
Louis de Gabriele: I started out as a counsel back in Valletta because at the time we had an education system based on a student work scheme. I was sponsored to go to university by the Bank of Valletta, who also sponsored me to do my Master’s in London, and therefore I had a contract with Bank of Valletta where I had to spend two years working there following my Master’s.
After that, I came to Camilleri Preziosi. I am still retained today as external counsel of Bank of Valletta and they’re still one of our main clients.
We are not strong in shipping, so our experience in the international market really started around 1994 when the first wave of financial services legislation came about. Having previously worked in a bank, I had a very strong banking background and it suited me to develop that area of the practice. Today we are 30-strong in terms of qualified lawyers, which for Malta and for being a specialised firm is quite large.
Our philosophy and vision have always been that we would rather go for the low volume but high margin work, instead of the low margin but high volume work, because that has always been our hallmark since the firm was founded.
TRC: What, in terms of the philosophy of the company, is your added value?
LG: We are different in that we act as external counsel to a number of corporates and then handle most of what they do in terms of transactional, regulatory and litigation matters. We use our litigation unit as a support to our clients rather than clients specifically coming to us for litigation. We restrict ourselves to our main areas, which are banking, investment funds, general corporate in the local market and telecoms. In investment funds we cover regulatory matters, transactional matters, the works. Because of Malta’s advantages in terms of having holding companies, we have seen a lot of international mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity coming our way. We do a lot of the work that would otherwise be done in London at eight times our rate. We are much lower cost, but we still provide the level of service and certainty that our clients need.
TRC: In terms of international perceptions of Malta, what would you like to project, and what role does the firm play in positioning itself to attract international investors, particularly those from the UK?
LG: By international standards, we remain a small law firm. However, we have very good relationships with the top UK law firms. We have done work with all of them and that’s our target audience. If they are considering a jurisdiction in which to establish one of their clients’ companies, the message we would like to convey is that we want to place Malta at the same level as Dublin or Luxembourg.
When we go to speak to these firms, we do not promote Camilleri Preziosi, we promote Malta. And because we feel that we are well placed in the Maltese market, if we actually create depth in the Maltese market then we will get our fair share of what comes along.
TRC: In terms of your vision of Malta’s evolution, what’s the timeframe for Malta getting to where you want it to be?
LG: I think we’re looking at a very volatile market and it’s very difficult to have a vision which takes you beyond one to two years and even that has become difficult. For example, about six or seven months ago nobody would have thought that Libya or Egypt would be having the kinds of problems they are having. And when something like that happens, you really have to go back to your drawing board and see what impact this could possibly have.
I really promote M&A, because I think that it is an activity that we have not yet promoted enough. In 2007 before the crisis we had huge M&A activity being channelled through Malta, but M&A activity worldwide has declined, because credit has become too expensive, meaning people are not undertaking the acquisitions they were undertaking before. However, that also creates a pipeline of transactions because people will sell assets further down the line and that will regenerate new work for us.
TRC: In terms of the jurisdiction here, what would you identify as Malta’s key advantages?
LG: Malta is a manageable place. What I mean by that is that you have access to the regulator; you can get rules changed if there are reasons why those rules need to change. It doesn’t take two years to get those rules changed because you need to find the parliamentary time to do it, because here the political consensus is that this is a priority area for Malta. The political will behind the industry is fundamental in all of this. We can have state of the art regulation because it’s manageable. We can react quickly to what the market needs; I think that’s what is needed.
TRC: What is Camilleri Preziosi’s focus in terms of where the firm is going in the next couple of years?
LG: Our internal vision is 2013, we can’t take it beyond that. By 2013 we want to have another 3 partners at the top, which means we have to sustain that with further growth at the lower levels. I think that there is sufficient depth in the market and that we have sufficient goodwill in the market to be able to get there in both the local and the international business. Clearly, the international business is where most of the growth will be coming from and we are investing in there being that growth in the international market.
TRC: What sectors do you see as being growth sectors?
LG: Our main sectors are M&A, banking, investment services and telecoms and we see growth opportunities across the board. Investment services and M&A would be our top priority in terms of growth.
TRC: In terms of your Maltese DNA, what do you feel about your personal characteristics? How do you identify with Malta and how does that make this firm special?
LG: I would describe it in two words: we are creative and we are survivors. It’s our history. We survive because we can adapt to different circumstance and to different people who come along. We’ve had the Arabs who have colonised Malta and we survived, and we had the Brits - two completely diverse and different cultures. That has made us very resilient. There’s always something we can come up with next, somehow.
TRC: If you had to send a message to the UK readers about Malta now, what would be your key point?
LG: One big advantage that we’ve had in this country is that we are a Mediterranean country that has adapted to the discipline of 160 years of British rule. There are few other Mediterranean countries that have that. This is clear in our system of law, where we have such a hybrid system of law where most of the older laws are civil code, of French and Italian extraction, but all of our commercial laws are of British extraction, and we have managed to put two completely different legal cultures - common law and civil law - into one whole that makes sense. To be able to do that I think you need to be creative and I think that the creativity of a Mediterranean culture, plus the rigour of a British culture have given us something unique, which is what gives us our resilience. We have the will to understand things and the will to take it through.