Today the EastBayDaily interviews Attorney Antonio Valla, founder of Valla & Associates.
Valla & Associates provides legal and business services to foreign companies entering the US market.
Valla & Associates has offices in the following cities:
- Walnut Creek, California
- New York, New York
Attorney Antonio Valla
East Bay Daily: Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself? I hear that you were born in Italy.
Antonio Valla: I was. I was born and grew up there. I moved to California in 1983, 30 years ago. Went to college here, law school here and I’ve been living here ever since.
East Bay Daily: And so you actually came here to go to law school?
Antonio Valla: My whole family moved but I came here to go to college and then law school after that.
East Bay Daily: And have you always wanted to be an attorney?
Antonio Valla: Yes. Since grade school.
East Bay Daily: And which law school did you attend?
Antonio Valla: I went to USF (University of San Francisco).
East Bay Daily: And did you start Valla and Associates directly after graduating from USF?
Antonio Valla: No, I spent six years with Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft which was a mid-sized firm in San Francisco, absolutely great experience, clerked for them here in law school, joined them after law school, spent five to six years with them, left them in 1994 to start my own firm.
East Bay Daily: And was it similar? Was it something that kind of prepared you for what you do now?
Antonio Valla: It was because at the time, I worked with the corporate and transactional group which was headed by John Hancock and John, very, very much American but had lived in France and Switzerland for many years, was really an international lawyer and so he and his partners really taught me the ropes.
East Bay Daily: And about Valla and Associates, can you talk a little bit about your practice areas?
Antonio Valla: Sure. We’re a boutique firm. We’re small, very small in the American context. What we do is chiefly represent foreign companies that do business or would like to do business in the United States and that means companies that are exporting into the US products or services, companies that are manufacturing in the US and that’s becoming more and more the trend and sometimes the ownership groups behind those companies. So it’s a 360-degree service firm to a particular slice of the industry.
East Bay Daily: And what about local companies that want to take their products internationally?
Antonio Valla: We’ve represented and we do represent a number of local companies, meaning California companies or West Coast companies. That is not our core business. It’s probably less than 20 percent of our practice but it is something we do.
East Bay Daily: And how has your law firm grown or changed since inception?
Antonio Valla: I think it has changed largely as a result of technology. I mean most of what we do is done across time zones and requires a large amount of travel and all of that used to be extremely complicated and extraordinarily expensive and now it’s far easier and a lot less expensive. So that has been the big change the last 10, 15 years.
East Bay Daily: So video conferencing, conference calls.
Antonio Valla: Video conferencing, conference calls, the ability to get a lot of people on the phone at the same time. All of that has helped us develop, has sped up the business for better or for worse.
East Bay Daily: And then what about your recent expansion to New York?
Antonio Valla: New York for us has always been a tempting market, particularly for European companies. It’s considered to be America and we know it’s not really America but it’s certainly a landing point. So it was important for us to be there and we explored that market for a couple of years. We worked with a number of well-positioned clients in the New York and tri-state area, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, as far south as Philadelphia and that has worked very well for us and our clients have been encouraging us to take that step. So we did.
East Bay Daily: So you’re responding to your clients’ requests to grow in that direction?
Antonio Valla: We’re responding to the client’s request and we’re also responding to a perceived market there for small boutique firms to compete with the larger firms.
East Bay Daily: Right, and it’s closer to Europe.
Antonio Valla: It’s closer to Europe as well. It’s only six hours away from continental Europe and five hours time difference to London.
East Bay Daily: So about your clients, we know about small businesses. We know about larger multinationals. But you mentioned earlier something about midmarket firms and that being maybe a target for you.
Antonio Valla: Those are our targets. Midmarket firms by my definition which is simply a matter of experience, it’s not an industry definition, are companies that have revenues in the 20 to 200 million dollar range. They’re typically companies that outsource a lot of legal services.
They may have an in-house legal department but that department may be of a size that really does not handle everything in-house and it does rely on outside legal counsel.
East Bay Daily: So you’re bringing the expertise?
Antonio Valla: That has been our target. They’re small enough where you can have a relational approach. Meet people and work with them and develop trust and confidence in each other as opposed to very, very large companies.
East Bay Daily: And who would you say would be your perfect client? You mentioned earlier that it’s foreign corporations.
Antonio Valla: My perfect client is a foreign company. It doesn’t need to be European, that is forward looking, that identifies the United States as a core market for itself and its products in the midterm five to ten years and is willing to invest and do business here. It’s unique enough that it can succeed here and yet it’s flexible enough that it can be American about it.
East Bay Daily: And unique is the keyword. And with your business, how would you say you’re different from some of the other law firms that provide international business services?
Antonio Valla: We’re very small. We’re a boutique. I don’t quite know any other firm like us and that may be good or bad. I’m not quite sure what that says about our business model. But we certainly don’t claim to compete with the mega firms. We don’t have the expertise and we don’t have the manpower to do it. At the same time, we find that we function extremely well in an international environment. So something must be right. We must be doing something right.
East Bay Daily: Who would you say is your greatest influence personally?
Antonio Valla: Certainly my father.
East Bay Daily: What’s your father’s name?
Antonio Valla: My father’s name was John and he was a lifelong entrepreneur. He built a manufacturing company essentially from scratch and unfortunately he passed away eight years ago. But he was a tremendous inspiration to me growing up and in my career.
East Bay Daily: And is that what led you towards the law or business?
Antonio Valla: Certainly towards business. He had a healthy disrespect for lawyers and I think to some extent he was right. But he was also a very, very practical man and he taught me the value of hard work and focus and concentration and honesty and respect for those who work with you. And that’s something I’ve been trying to live up to.
East Bay Daily: And earlier you mentioned something about industry consolidation as a trend. Could you explain or elaborate on how that relates to Valla and Associates?
Antonio Valla: The legal industry has been consolidating for the past, I don’t know, 20, 25, 30 years. The trend has been towards larger and larger firms, essentially global brands that span across the United States and England, and from there to the rest of the world. That I believe creates an opportunity for those who don’t consolidate because there is a whole range of clients that are either unable to afford mega firms or do not wish to work with them and those are the clients who end up working with us.
East Bay Daily: So there’s no real connection between the latest economic downturn that’s fueling the consolidation?
Antonio Valla: I don’t know. I don’t have enough data to answer that question. My gut feeling is that the consolidation is happening and will continue to happen regardless of economic circumstances. It may be accelerated by a downturn but the downturn is not the cause of it.
East Bay Daily: What types of marketing strategies do you employ?
Antonio Valla: Mostly referrals from existing clients and contacts. We do have a website. We have a brochure. We have a very modest SEO and social media strategy and that’s sort of the extent of our marketing.
East Bay Daily: You also have some strategic alliances, some international strategic alliances.
Antonio Valla: We do. We have partner firms in Rome, Italy and in London, England as well as Mexico City.
East Bay Daily: How have those benefited Valla and Associates?
Antonio Valla: Cross-referrals but also a friendly voice and somebody who has got their feet on the ground and understands the local environment. So that’s the big benefit.
East Bay Daily: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that want to start a business or attorneys that want to have a successful law firm like Valla and Associates?
Antonio Valla: I will take those in reverse. I think attorneys need to focus heavily on business development early in their career. They really can’t think that it’s something that will come and somehow fall out of the sky 10 or 15 years into their career. They need to be at it their second, third, fourth year and keep going at it. In terms of starting your own business or your own law firm, the sooner the better. The older you get, the more you get tied into financial commitments, mortgages, family, et cetera, and I think the less inclined you are to take risk.
Contact Valla & Associates in Walnut Creek:
Valla & Associates
Walnut Creek, CA
+1 925 705 7623
San Ramon, CA