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Commemorating Global Counsel USA's Third Anniversary

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Three years ago this month, I boarded a flight from Washington, DC, to Des Moines, Iowa, on the inaugural day of Global Counsel USA, the Washington office of Global Counsel. I had been invited to join a group observing the Iowa caucuses. Having just launched a US business for an international public-policy consultancy, I thought it would be useful to gain an early look at the 2020 US presidential race, which was already being characterized by some as the most consequential election in American history. At the time, then-President Donald Trump was riding high. The US economy was humming along. Though Trump was subject to impeachment proceedings in Congress for alleged extortion of Ukraine government officials, as he had done so many times in his unconventional presidency, Trump had turned the proceeding into a rallying cry for his party; he would be acquitted by the Senate soon after the caucuses. Democratic strategists we spoke with in Iowa despaired that if the near-daily scandals of Trump’s first term couldn’t bring him down, what Democrat could. Joe Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was foundering, as critics argued he was too old and out of touch with the party’s new generation; Biden would finish fourth in Iowa.

Of course, we know now that even as the votes were being counted in Iowa, the world was being transformed, and for reasons that had nothing to do with US presidential politics. The covid-19 virus was rapidly spreading across the globe, and would within a few weeks of our launch cripple the global economy and alter the fabric of daily life nearly everywhere. At Global Counsel USA, our plans to criss-cross the country telling clients about our new venture, and to host regular events in Washington to bring together policymakers and the private sector, were put on hold indefinitely. Instead, we dived into researching, writing and talking to clients about the many public-policy questions elicited by the pandemic: from the mechanics of the many government programs designed to counter the resulting economic slowdown; to regulation of the massive increase in online engagement with tech platforms as the world stayed home; to how – and whether – to protect the intellectual property used to develop the miraculous vaccines that helped draw the pandemic to its end.

We also got to know our many wonderful GC colleagues in London, Brussels and Singapore on the fly, as we all pitched in to help our clients while trying to keep our dogs from barking on Zoom calls and wiping down our deliveries with disinfectant. We built a crack team of policy analysts in Washington, in some cases hiring colleagues we had never met in person. And we became accustomed to greater volatility in policymaking and in our daily lives. In the first year of its existence, the GC USA office in downtown Washington had its glass lobby doors boarded up with plywood to guard against possible violence: during the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, in which demonstrators (nearly all peaceful) took to the streets to call for racial justice; on Election Day in 2020, when worries of violence thankfully were unrealized; and on the day of the certification of the election results on January 6, 2021, when the fears proved tragically prescient with the attack on the US Capitol.

As the US emerged from the depths of the pandemic, we were able to help our private investor clients navigate the surge in deal activity driven by record levels of fiscal and monetary stimulus, and to analyze from a policy perspective the innovations that emerged in many industries to solve the thorny problems presented by the pandemic. We also have been able to leverage GC’s deep experience in advising companies around the world to develop a growing practice in advising companies ranging from small startups to large multinationals with exposure to the US. In both disciplines, we have developed meaningful experience and capabilities at the state as well as the federal level, as state officials – both Republican and Democrat – have become more activist and willing to oppose federal policy.

Three years after the Iowa caucuses, the US political script has been flipped. President Trump initially underestimated the impact covid-19 would have on the US economy and daily life, causing just enough of the American electorate to question whether Trump was the right leader to steer the country through the crisis. After losses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary, Biden’s candidacy was buoyed by a win in South Carolina, wrapping up the nomination within weeks and defeating a weakened Trump in November. Now it is Biden whose stock is up, following a better-than-expected midterm election and a well-received State of the Union address this week. Meanwhile, Trump is having difficulty gaining momentum for his bid to reclaim the White House in 2024, dogged by his connections to January 6th, and also some of the same claims put to Biden in Iowa: that a younger generation of Republicans has moved past him, while Trump’s message is still roughly the same as when he first ran in 2016. We have followed policy and politics long enough to appreciate that while the conventional wisdom sometimes proves correct, fortunes can change quickly and unexpectedly. We will continue to help our clients prepare for, mitigate the risks from and capitalize upon all reasonable policy outcomes that are critical to their businesses.  

Now with three years under our belt, we have built a great staff of nearly a dozen analysts in Washington and London focused on US public policy, supported by more than 120 colleagues at GC offices around the world. We have spent most of our time on three dynamic, heavily regulated industries – energy/climate, tech and financial services – but with the generalist spirit of a still-small office, ready, as one of our GC colleagues aptly said, to have a go at any public-policy problem our clients throw at us where we believe we can help. Returning to our original business plan, we are visiting cities across the US and in other countries served by GC to tell not of the franchise we hope to build, but of the track record we have developed advising many of the world’s leading investors and companies on navigating public policy through a uniquely challenging period, and the capabilities of a team made more resilient by the trial. We are returning to in-person events, hosting an engaging discussion on regulation of the metaverse led by our TMT team in Washington in November, and our largest event to date on the Politics of Food in January, part of GC’s annual Politics of conference series.

We are deeply grateful to our colleagues, clients and contacts who have supported GC USA through these extraordinary three years. We look forward to continuing to work with clients old and new, to write and speak, and to bring together policymakers and the private sector to discuss the key policy issues of the day.

    The views expressed in this research can be attributed to the named author(s) only.