Peter Fousert is an insolvency partner with PlasBossinade in the Netherlands, one of the ILN’s Dutch firms. In this episode, he discusses with Lindsay the challenges of the war on talent, the delayed insolvencies that pandemic measures have incurred, and his interest in how environmental issues and regulations will impact the legal industry and its clients.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Peter Fousert from PlasBossinade in Groningen, the Netherlands. Peter, welcome. We’re so happy to have you with us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm and your practice?
Peter: Hi, Lindsay. Thank you very much for inviting me. As you mentioned, my name is Peter Fousert. I’m a Netherlands based lawyer working for PlasBossinade as a partner there. My firm, PlasBossinade, isn’t, well an international oriented local law firm. We are based in the north of the Netherlands, proud to do so. We have lawyers and civil notaries in offices in Groningen, which is all the way north in the Netherlands, and a civil notary office in Rotterdam. As you may know, the main port of Holland, one of the biggest port in the world. We are a partner-run law firm and our main practice areas are M and A, commercial litigation, tax and finance solvency and restructuring, employment law and real estate, including the tax structuring of real estate.
We work for a lot of branches. Some important ones in our practice are shipping and ship building, industry and healthcare. We work for clients in the variety in size from very big and governmental organizations to small locally owned businesses. It’s a broad practice, basically.
Lindsay: That’s great. How about your practice in particular?
Peter: I’m mainly working in insolvency and everything that, well has to do with insolvency or companies in financial distress situations. I work as a bankruptcy trustee as well, for well almost half of my time.
Lindsay: That’s great.
Peter: So, I see both sides of the medal, so to speak.
Lindsay: That’s great. So, let’s dive into our questions. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment and how are you working to overcome that?
Peter: I think for a firm like our firm, a mid-size local-based law firm, our biggest challenge is the war on talent basically. We’re suffering, well the vortex of the Magic Circle firms in the Netherlands. And although we are working and living in a student town, it’s still hard to get the talent in in the way we want it. So, we’re always looking for new ways to find the right people for the right place, but that’s hard these days.
Lindsay: Yes, I would imagine that it is. I mean, all that we’re hearing in the US is that the Netherlands is one of the best places to work and to live. So, are you finding that you’re able to compete on a global scale in the Netherlands, but perhaps being in the north is more difficult than if you were in one of the more central or southern cities?
Peter: Well, I didn’t know. The Netherlands, well we are a very small country. If you compare it to some of the bigger countries or even some of the bigger cities, there are cities that have the size of the Netherlands. So, we’re a small country. We travel to Amsterdam, for example in an hour and a half, two hours. So, in my opinion, there’s not much difference between working from the north or working in Amsterdam. Still, it’s hard to explain to young people basically that the city we live in is a good place to live. It’s nice and green and there’s plenty of space around to do other things than work. I think that’s one of our main selling points to young people, the work life/balance, which is pretty good. But we were speaking, it was the last global ILN meeting where we were speaking about the war on talent and it’s a thing that we … I came across a lot of lawyers who are suffering with the same problems even from bigger firms or bigger countries.
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. That’s true. I mean, I think it’s a global issue for sure. The generations are changing, so that’s not something that anyone is going to solve anytime soon, unfortunately.
Peter: I’m afraid so. I’m afraid you’re right.
Lindsay: Yes. So, can you talk to us a little bit about the current state of the market and what that means for you and your clients?
Peter: Well, for me personally in my practice area, I think we’re in the aftermath of a perfect storm maybe. It’s the pandemic combined with the consequences of the war in Ukraine. A lot of companies are suffering. I think in the next couple of months, there will be a lot of insolvencies and companies in financial problems, in dire straits basically. So that’s what we’re facing. Our Dutch government took some measures to save companies, but now we’re seeing the other side of those measures, and companies have to start paying their debts, have to start paying their taxes. It’s a busy period. And it’s ironic because in a way it’s sad for the companies that are suffering all those problems from … But for me as an insolvency practitioner, there’s a lot going on at the moment.
Lindsay: Absolutely. I had a similar conversation with one of our lawyers from London, and here in the US we didn’t take similar protections against a lot of bankruptcies that much of Europe took, so he said there were a lot of companies in Europe and the UK that didn’t fail that probably should have failed. So obviously it protected companies that needed to be protected, but at the same time there was this natural progression for some businesses that should have happened that didn’t happen and is now happening, which is what you’re seeing that we-
Peter: Yeah, I think it’s the same. Yes.
Lindsay: … in the US didn’t experience. Yes. So, I think It’s really an interesting time for what you’re going through as an insolvency lawyer. So that-
Peter: There’s a lot of companies in the gray area, sort of ghost companies that were tagged along by the protective measures, but there’s even companies that were relatively healthy that are suffering from high energy pricing, the rise in employment costs. And that, combined with the measures, well it’s massive.
Lindsay: And I’m sure the inflation as well. I mean, the inflation numbers that you’re seeing in Europe are just unbelievable.
Peter: Yes. Well back in the … I wasn’t born then, but I think it’s about early ’70s that were the same economic period at the moment.
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. I would agree. I wasn’t born then either, but from what I’ve heard, it must have been very similar.
Peter: We see it mainly in retail where there’s a lot of people working, and that’s hard at the moment.
Lindsay: Absolutely. It’s interesting, because I had a conversation recently with my dad, who as you know is the previous executive director of the ILN, and he said he thinks it’s a shift in the way the market is doing business. So, we used to have a lot of retail stores that were in person, and now because the marketplace is shifting to being more online, we’ll see that what you’re doing for point of sale or what people want to see in person is more things like services, so nail salons, dry cleaners, those types of things. But you’re not going to see as much shopping. So, all shopping will really move online. I think that’s an interesting point. So, It’s more of a shift in what the marketplace is doing and less of a reaction to the overall economy. So, it’s what we’re moving towards as a full market.
Peter: Yes, I think you’re right. I think the recent circumstances have accelerated that in a way. So that’s what we see, is this shift came faster than it would have been without a pandemic or without the war going on.
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely, because people are forced to order online just by the nature of needing to be at home and because of the war in Ukraine. So that absolutely makes sense.
Peter: Yep. And we see a lot of shift in real estate as well. I mean, buildings like our own are used in another way than it used to be. So, in the real estate area, there will be a lot of changes as well. Yes.
Lindsay: Absolutely. It’s interesting because a lot of the real estate lawyers I’ve spoken to have said that commercial real estate remains hot, which I find very interesting. And I know in the US, it’s still both residential and commercial real estate are very hot right now too. So, I wonder how long that will continue, but It’s got to be for varying reasons. But yes, I agree with you. I think It’s shifted how they’re being used and for what, but that I think will change over the next 10 years.
Peter: Yes, yes. I think you’re right. Yep.
Lindsay: So, what would you say is the biggest area that’s related either to your practice or the legal industry in general that you’re curious about?
Peter: For me personally, I think it’s the way the environmental issues will impact on the legal industry. In the place where we are, north Holland, energy and transport is a big sector, and you see a lot of changes there. I think that’s a very vibrant thing to witness There’s a lot going on, a lot of development, there’s a lot of new technology going there. So, in my opinion, it will be environmental issues and the way we adapt to new rules and new laws that will be in place shortly. That’s a big thing, I guess in the next couple of years.
Lindsay: Yes, I agree. I think it’s really interesting because a lot of people are slow to adapt until they’re forced to, or especially in the legal industry, obviously clients lead the way. So, it’s whatever clients are really requiring of their law firms. So, I’m curious to see what changes will come about because we’re required to, but I think that’s another area where the pandemic has really forced us to make changes. People are traveling less, doing more Zoom meetings, more Teams meetings. So that’s already changed how much our carbon footprint has altered. Again, the real estate market I think is shifting in that way too. So, it is a really interesting field. I agree with you.
Peter: There’s a lot of other changes needed to infrastructure and to actually, well for example our Dutch electrical system can hardly cope with all the new ways we get our energy. So, in construction, in building, all of those sectors will be hugely influenced by this change, I guess.
Peter: I think for me as a company will not … If you don’t adapt soon enough, I think that’s the new reason for insolvency.
Lindsay: Yes. So that I think is a great way for you to also be an advisor to your clients, to help point them in the direction of ways to avoid insolvency. Yes.
Peter: As I said, I’m working on both sides of the medal and advising on how to prevent financial distress. One of the things that will be colored in by ESG in the next couple of years, I’m sure about that. Yes.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, switching gears, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Peter: Well, that’s a hard question. That’s a hard question. I think there’s quite a lot of people who know me who know this, but I think if I hadn’t become a lawyer, I think I would be owning a two-star Michelin restaurant. I think that would have been my other career if I wasn’t an insolvency lawyer.
Lindsay: That’s fair.
Peter: My wife Rebecca always says I have an unhealthy relationship with food. But in my opinion, it’s a very healthy relationship and I enjoy it very much. And definitely the ILN meetings are always a good thing to go to because you always take care of the right place to go. I enjoy it very much.
Lindsay: Good, good. I’m glad to hear that. We do have some good ones coming up for our next meeting in a couple of weeks, so we’ll have to see what you think about those.
Peter: Well, I checked them out already.
Lindsay: Oh, good. I figured you had. So, what’s your favorite thing to cook?
Peter: Well, I think It’s more traditional, traditional French, French/Italian, Mediterranean style, as long as it matches with the right wine. Then it’s good.
Lindsay: Of course, of course. Who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Peter: We have this system that if you start as a lawyer, you work under the wings of somebody who mentors you. In my case, I started working as a lawyer for a firm in the east of Holland, and there was somebody who was working there for about 10 years, and she taught me how to write basically, how to make legal arguments and how to build a legal argument. I think until today, I find she’s the one who influenced me the most in my legal career.
Lindsay: That’s wonderful. And writing is really an important skill. I mean, I think it’s often underestimated.
Peter: It is, yes. And nowadays, I try to work as a mentor for the people who start in my firm. That’s always one of the first thing I try to teach them how to structure an argument.
Peter: How to structure a letter or a legal document or even an agreement. Drafting an agreement is about the same process as a legal argument. I think it’s underestimated in law school that the skill of writing is one of the most important things we as lawyers have as what we do all day.
Lindsay: Absolutely, absolutely. What would you say is something that most people misunderstand about your field of work?
Peter: Well, I think that’s not too difficult to answer because as I said, half my time I’m working as a bankruptcy trustee. I think the public opinion on bankruptcy trustees is that they want to earn as much money off the backs of the creditors. So, I’m always happy to explain people how it works, that there’s nothing that you stake. The bankruptcy trustee gets nothing because we’re not publicly appointed. Our fees are paid out of what we sell, and the purchase price of the goods is what we get our payment from. So that’s one of the big misunderstandings I like to clear out the way.
Lindsay: Yes. I’ve known a few bankruptcy trustees in my time. It’s interesting to read articles online about it and people really get very fired up. They really don’t understand how it works.
Peter: That’s true. I don’t know if that’s the same in other jurisdictions, but in the Netherlands I think it’s almost a sport to hold the bankruptcy trustee liable for almost everything, and it’s strange to see that you get used to it, coping with that.
Lindsay: I can understand because, and in your experience I’m sure it’s the same, that there’s a lot of emotions whenever there’s a bankruptcy, because it’s people’s jobs and there’s a lot of feelings that are involved. But of course, it’s not the bankruptcy trustee’s fault that this has happened and it’s your job to just move people through this process. But it’s really amazing how much they need this figure to blame.
Peter: Of course. But otherwise, I understand it, because I used to work in a lot of bigger healthcare insolvency cases, so I had to lay off a lot of people working in healthcare, and that goes with, it’s a consequence of the insolvency. You wind up the company and you lay off the employees, and that’s one of the things you have to do. But still, you have to do with compassion in a way. And on the other hand, there’s good employment … There’s insolvency schemes for employees in the Netherlands that will take care of the payment of the wages. So, it has a lot of impact, but the financial damages are not that big.
Lindsay: Right, of course, of course. So, what is the most important lesson that you’ve learned over your career?
Peter: That you as a lawyer, have the obligation to be curious. Always be curious, always dig deeper into a case and find the one threat you have to start pulling to find a solution. So, for me, that’s the most important lesson, always be curious, always ask for the why and how did that work, what happened? And always be receptive for those kinds of signals.
Lindsay: That’s great. I really like that. Can you tell me about a client that may have changed your practice?
Peter: Yes. It was a client who was referred to me by one of the other big firms in the northern Netherlands. They were working as a bankruptcy trustee in a certain bankruptcy. They produced a creditor who had a big environmental issue with the bankruptcy trustee and the trustee said, “Well I can’t solve it for you. If you refer you to PlasBossinade.” And that case was the entrance for me into a specific specialty area I’m working on a lot now, and that’s the combination of environmental law and insolvency law. The question, who is obliged to clean up the soil after you wind up a company, for example. So that’s a very specific area of practice, and that came to me by that one client. So, that was nice.
Lindsay: That’s great. What does being part of the ILN mean to you?
Peter: For my practice and for my firm, is important. In a way, you have a lot of lawyers on speed dial if you want. So, it’s very easy to reach out to your ILN counterparts all over the world. I very recently was in a complicated insolvency case, and it was very easy to reach out to the ILN office in London, the ILN office in Norway. And that’s the convenience of, to be able to do that easily is an extra for your clients and for us. So that’s a very good thing, and I really like the meetings, but that goes without staying, I guess.
Lindsay: I’m so glad to hear it. One final question as we wrap up. I always like to ask this of everybody. What is one thing outside of work that you’re really enjoying right now?
Peter: Well, it’s going to be autumn in the Netherlands, and I think the thing I like most in this time of year is I have this house with a garden and a nice fireplace, and to sit there with Rebecca and viewing our house and garden. So, I enjoy that the most at the moment this time of year.
Lindsay: Nice. I love that. Yes, that’s great. Well, thank you very much for joining us. This has been really great.
Peter: Thank you.
Lindsay: We will be back next week with our next guest. For all of our listeners, thank you so much for joining us as well. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And thank you very much.
Diego D’Odorico is a senior associate at Salaberren y López Sansón, or SyLS, the ILN’s member firm for Argentina. In this episode, he and Lindsay discuss the regionalization happening with Argentine businesses that led the firm to open a new office in Uruguay in order to better serve their clients, the unique moment that Argentina is in, and what Diego has learned from his clients and mentors.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Diego D’Odorico from Salaberren y López Sansón in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Diego, welcome. We’re so happy to have you on the podcast this week. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm and your practice?
Diego: Hi Lindsay, and thanks very much for having me. Well, I’m a senior associate at Salaberren y López Sansón, or SyLS, as we like to call it. And I’m basically involved in all aspects of the firm’s general corporate practice, M&A, and also wealth planning out, with main focus on commercial contracts, mergers and acquisitions. And also, my practice involves legal counseling to very and ultra-high net worth individuals, both domestic and foreign, and business planning in Argentina and the Latin America region.
Lindsay: Great, that’s great. So, what would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment, and how are you working to overcome that?
Diego: Well, several challenges come to my mind at the moment, but if I had to choose one, I would say facing the challenges working in Argentina and the region represent, it is something that keep you creative as to find the best ways to provide intelligent solutions to the day-to-day issues that our clients bring to us. And for instance, now Argentina is facing a complex moment both politically and socially, but that always brings interesting opportunities for developing businesses and recalculating our own strategies in order to give a good service for our clients. Most of our local business is now becoming regionalized and following this challenging path.
We have just opened a new office in Uruguay, which is SyLS Ferrari, which will be the first binational firm to provide legal, tax accounting and notary service to clients conducting their business in Uruguay. So, this is a major milestone for us since we founded the original SyLS in Argentina almost 15 years ago. And for this new venture, we have joined our good friend, Eduardo Ferrari, who is one of the most prestigious professionals in Uruguay. He’s a lawyer and also a notary public, with whom we have worked as a team for many years, assisting several of our clients. And this is a very, very challenging project that combines sales international experience, work processes, service quality and responsiveness, with Eduardo’s extensive knowledge, experience, trust, and his direct and personal approach. And he will lead a team of excellent professionals in various areas.
Lindsay: That’s great. And it sounds like a really exciting moment for the firm, and a great time to be a lawyer too, because anytime there is obviously expansion into a new market, but also challenges within a region, there’s obviously a lot of legal work to be done.
Diego: That’s right. Complex matters both locally and regionally and globally arise every day. And well, we noticed that our clients need to feel that they can rely in either legal counsels, both in terms of responsiveness and the quality of the responses. And that brings us to strengthen our capacity to be creative and to develop new strategies for getting our work done.
Lindsay: Absolutely. So, speaking of your clients, what would you say is the current state of the market and what does that mean for your clients? You’ve spoken a little bit about that already from a regional perspective, but what would you say more broadly as the state of the market?
Diego: Well, from a local perspective, we’re facing several issues regarding Argentina’s current situation, so lots of situations that require advice from a normative perspective, and changes that are happening from both the normative and the political area. That’s quite a day-to-day situation. And also, that situation leads to many Argentine residents and companies start to regionalize their businesses.
This has been a milestone since the last years, and that’s why most of Argentine entrepreneurs and also companies start to think out of the Argentine box and start to have base in Uruguay, our next neighbor, and regionalize their activities. That’s what I would say is the most trending situation regarding our market. And our clients’ expectations is to have certainty regarding how regulations will impact their business and how to find creative solutions to this wide, wide scenario of legislation, and also day-to-day situations regarding politics and the way of how bureaucracies work in our countries.
Lindsay: And I would imagine that given that it is a fluid situation, it’s difficult to give your clients certainty. But if they can feel that they have a good solid counselor in their law firm that they’re working with, that’s at least the level of certainty that you can give them, if you can’t give them certainty in the situation.
Diego: Well, it is indeed quite tough to give solid advice in such a changing scenario, but as you said, they feel comfortable with having a solid team behind which they can rely on. And that’s great for us, because they reinforce their trust in us on a day-to-day basis. And we have to be up to that by finding the most appropriate solutions and bringing that confidence that the client requires.
Lindsay: That’s great. So, what would you say is the biggest area related to either your practice or the legal industry, that you’re curious about?
Diego: Well, traditionally, I’ve been an all-field player in the corporate and M&A practice. And I have advised and represented a number of major companies and companies’ owners and executives in several industries with regards to their several daily corporate matters. But I would say that now, I’m more focused on everything related to wealth planning, which is … I wouldn’t say a new area in our firm, but definitely an area that has become stronger in the last five years. And we’re working very hard to develop it with some of my colleagues. Definitely, the regional scenario is conducive to developing this kind of area due to our clients’ situations, both personal and professional or business situation. So, there are several interesting things in that area that we’re now exploring and working on along with our clients, such as incorporating trusts, administrating trust funds, designing the better corporate structures for families to protect their wealth. That’s mostly what I’m more focused on nowadays.
Lindsay: That’s great. So changing gears a little bit, can you tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know?
Diego: Sure. Well, I always thought that being a lawyer is kind of an exhausting thing. And you need an escape valve in order to keep your mind sane and aligned. So having other activities to match your personalities is always important. I like to play the guitar and I have played guitar since I was a kid, playing with my friends in a band. Though I must say that in the recent years, due to the complications of life itself, it is becoming tougher to find the right moment to develop that hobby. But it’s a very important thing for me, because it connects me with something very personal and internal, and quite different to the day-to-day work also. As well as practicing some sports such as biking, which I like a lot, and try to keep my weekly 40K mark in order to keep in form.
Lindsay: That’s great. We actually have several ILN members who are musicals, and I always joke that we need to have some sort of ILN band put together at some point and get everybody to play together. I think that would be fun.
Diego: That sounds great. And actually, I was thinking a lot about jumping into the scenario on the last Philly conference, which was great, but I got lost in the bar, so you didn’t have a chance or the privilege to see me in action.
Lindsay: Oh, I missed it. Yes, I’ll have to send out an email and see who we can get together to play together. We actually had a former ILN lawyer, who their law firm used to … they had a battle of the bands as part of their intellectual property practice. And he actually left the practice of law to do music full time.
Diego: That’s great. And again, it is very important to have these complementary activities in order to keep you healthy, both physically and mentally. So, count me in for the ILN band.
Lindsay: Excellent, excellent. Okay, so who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Diego: Well, lots of persons come to my mind when I think of mentors, but I would say in the first place, my father would be a big mentor for me. Though he’s not a lawyer, he is in the real estate business. But from a very young age, I remember him teaching me things both directly and indirectly regarding how to deal with people, how to understand businesses, how to think of solutions in an always changing and complex scenario. And he did that always with great love. So that would be the number one mentor for me.
And professionally, I cannot forget my colleagues, Rafael Salaberren, Juan Manuel Campos, Sebastian Lopez Sansón. All of them are partners of sales, who from day one, have always been supportive with me and very generously taught me everything they could. So, they’re great mentors and continue to be nowadays. And I would also say that great mentors are the clients, and especially the tough ones, because they also teach you lots of things indirectly. And it’s up to you to get from those experiences and knowledge which you can capitalize positively for the future.
I always try to tell my juniors and paralegals that they keep in mind the importance of rescuing the tough things of a deal, or even the daily things of our practice, especially in these first years of their careers in which there is a mixture of both enthusiasm and also frustration and anxieties, and remembering that you can become stronger by acknowledging the tough things from the day-to-day practice. And using them in your favor for future matters is crucial. So I would say that a third big mentor for me are those clients, especially those ones who considered to be tough. But by the end of the day, I’m grateful for having those tough situations.
Lindsay: That’s very true. There’s a lot of truth to that. Has there been a particular client that you feel has changed your practice?
Diego: Yes, a lot. I will not give names, but-
Lindsay: Of course.
Diego: … first one that comes to my mind, it’s a large client related to the pharma industry, which helped me to understand lots of verticals involved in that business and in businesses in general, because that put me in the place of having to draft contracts, deal with their clients, deal with their personnel, facing new situations every day of various natures. And it was and it continues to be very formative for me, because it’s a kind of Pandora’s box. Every day, this client surprises me with something new, something in a good way, some other times in not a good way. But again, even in those times in which the surprises are not that great, there is always something you can get from that situation.
Lindsay: That’s great. So, what do most people misunderstand about your field of work?
Diego: Well, I would say that though we are very grateful with our clients, it is usually misunderstood the amount of time and energy and commitment involved in doing a good job and delivering a good product. This might sound simple, but these are very important factors that has to be not only with the professional skills, but also with the personal skills. And sometimes clients may not notice that. And it’s very important for us to keep committed to this day-to-day situation of bettering ourselves in what we do and also in the products we deliver. So again, we are very grateful with our clients. They do recognize all our efforts, but it is easy in the day-to-day frenzy not to recognize all this time, energy and commitment involved.
Lindsay: Yes, I think that’s absolutely true. And so along the same lines, what would be the most important lesson that you’ve learned over the course of your career so far?
Diego: Well, lots of lessons, but I would say firstly, the importance of relying on a solid team, both professionally and in the human dimension. We must not forget that we share lots of hours in our offices or nowadays via digital platforms with our colleagues, and it’s kind of a second family. So having a great group to work with is crucial to understand each other, to share a similar approach to the professional matters and the personal matters regarding values. This is crucial, and I’m very lucky to say that I’m in a team of such people. It makes things much easier, definitely, because behind every daily situation, both professional and personal, even those minor situations, there is an opportunity to learn something new. And I am grateful for learning everyday new things with these people.
Lindsay: That is a huge lesson, absolutely. And so, what does being part of the ILN mean to you?
Diego: Well, it means having the chance of being part of a group of people that prove to be excellent, both in a professional and in a human sense. It is also a great way to generate business opportunities. That has been proved a long time. And what surprised me the most is that once you get the face-to-face contact with the ILN members, it might sound a bit cliche or naive, but it feels like a family. And as the events [inaudible 00:22:22], it is in those meetings where lawyers become friends, they actually become friends. And it is a pleasure to be part of such a network, to be completely frank. Firstly, we were skeptic about joining a professionals’ network, but it proved to be, and it continues to prove to be great over time.
Lindsay: I’m so glad to hear that. So, wrapping up, I always like to ask this question. What is something that you are enjoying right now that has nothing to do with work?
Diego: Yes, definitely. I am enjoying lying on my couch after facing a very intense move from one apartment to the other. It was a process of, I would say, one or two months. And as we were discussing prior to recording this podcast, it is quite a stressful situation, but in this case, it was for good. And I’m really enjoying now the comfort of being established in my new place and just leaving the simple things such as, again, sitting in my couch, enjoying a good movie, and sleeping a good nap, or inviting friends to have dinner.
Lindsay: That’s wonderful. Yes, the rewards are great. The stress is also great, but once you’re done, it’s a really rewarding experience. Absolutely. I’m so glad to hear that you’re enjoying your new home.
Diego: Thanks very much, Lindsay.
Lindsay: Well, thank you very much, Diego. I really appreciate you being here this week. And to all of our listeners, we’ll be back next week with our next guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Ratings really do help us establish our podcast. And so, thank you so much, Diego. We’ll be back next week.
Diego: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. It was my pleasure.
Tiago Dias José is a partner at MGRA & Associados in Lisbon, Portugal, focusing on public law. In this episode, he and Lindsay discuss the legal trends in Portugal, particularly in real estate and sustainability, and why Portugal is such a favorable place to do business.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast. I’m your host Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is a returning guest, we’re really happy to have him with us, Tiago Diaz Jose from MGRA in Lisbon, Portugal. Tiago, welcome. We’re really glad to have you back with us. Why don’t you take a couple minutes to introduce yourself and your firm and your practice.
Tiago: Hi Lindsay. It’s a pleasure to be back and to chat again with you. As a returning guest, I can introduce again the practice of our office. We are a boutique law firm based in Lisbon. We have a few offices around Portugal, and it is known since many years now that we have a few partnerships in Portuguese-speaking countries where we also work. As a boutique law firm, we have a few specialized divisions to cover the main issues of our clients, say, industry, of course, corporate tax and administrative law and litigation. Our corporation also has a small branch that does finance and banking with very specialized people.
We have a team for IP. Portugal has become an entry country for Europe on IP registration and development of new patents and new ideas as we became quite a hub for entrepreneurs and inventors, especially linked to new technologies. My area of practice is public law, which means that my team deals with several aspects of the relationship with the state. We have since, for many years now, a very big part of our work is relative to the public transport system in the Lisbon metropolitan area. So, it’s linked to technology and to updating technology and to public [inaudible 00:02:45] and to make all the, say the partners and the operators who work together to put the system each day in better shape for client service. But we also work with construction licensing, real estate, and what we have seen from time to time is a hype in interest, and we have seen in the last years that it has become a big concern, sustainability and energy production.
Energy production meaning license for new energy systems, relationship with the state in order to guarantee that the energy produced is welcome and distributed through the national grid system, and also that the production meets the needs, either for industry and business and new developments, and of course, for housing, but that we have sorted out for many years. It has become quite interesting to understand that the Portuguese and energy production become transformed from being quite coal based and also in need of importation in, say 10 years, to a country that produces almost all of its energy needs, and like 80% of the energy consumed is from renewable energies, which means we have seen huge investments and huge commitment from the state and from the privates that invest in these systems to put this together. And the results are serious as businesses and as bringing Portugal to be a sustainable country in terms of energy.
I think the next focus of concern and investment and development will be water production, because we are a country in the south of Europe, and we know that things are not going for the better with the rain and the lack of water and forest fires. We have seen this happening in the last 20 years, droughts and lack of supply on water. It has not been happening and it’s not a huge concern currently in Portugal, but it is, in our neighbors in Spain and Italy and so on. And we know that it’ll become a problem here, so solutions are being developed and put on the table to develop and to study what we can do and how we can get better on these. And that means new investment, new finance, new contracts, new insurance, so on and so on.
As for Portugal and as for our office, one of the areas that has also been of our interest and we have developed, we started developing in the legislative perspective, collaborating with a regulator, is that Portugal has granted a license for a spaceport in Azores, and we helped design the new space law, the Portuguese space law, of course, comparing with the US space law with China space law, and with a few EU legislation that is already in place. And I really consider, this is something we have discussed with Anacon, the regulator, and a few other interested parties on these, that these regulation, these widespread regulation should be brought together.
We should try, or it should be a concern to bring together the legislation on these issues, especially on environment safety and insurance, where there is a huge potential for new business and to develop a common platform that would prevent the operators and the developers and the companies to stick to one regulation and then try to apply that to everyone, and the legislation doesn’t comply with all the demands. And it will affect us. Once this exploration starts moving forward, it’ll affect everyone in case of an accident, or something goes wrong. And if we don’t take care of that in a regulator’s perspective, to have it in a common ground, it’ll be very hard to, them to either to find liability, but in an earlier stage, it makes it very difficult to prevent the risks.
And that, I think is… It’s an interesting area and it should be a concern.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Yes. It’s one of those things where it’s easier to start with the regulations now before something happens rather than to go back and try and legislate it once something has already,
Tiago: Once we already had a problem.
Lindsay: Right, exactly. All of that is really fascinating. And so, it sounds like Portugal is really on the cutting edge when it comes to sustainability and being very forward-thinking, especially having the benefit of what’s happening with your neighbors in Spain and Italy, as you say, with the forest fires. We’re seeing that here in the US with what’s just happened in Hawaii, which is really-
Lindsay: And Canada, of course.
Tiago: I’ve seen yesterday on the news, the fires in Canada are burning for nine months now.
Tiago: It’s amazing. They have to take a whole city to prevent people from getting hurt. It’s really impressive. Yes, Portugal is, as you said, on a cutting-edge time, but we also… Well, it’s noticeable, also on the demand and the interest that we see at the office from tourists, of course, but also from foreigners, US citizens and companies, and some northern Europeans and some other locations like Asia and so on, either from people that discovered Portugal and understand that it’s safe place. The climate is very good. We have political stability; we have been the same country for a thousand years or 900 years. Tax-wise, we are not a paradise, but we are quite attractive, and the estate planning here makes a lot of sense. And for families, education in Portugal and the health system and so on works pretty well, and it’s not that expensive. And we have seen in the last 15 years excellent value on real estate.
We really see that the long-term value can be held or even increased, and the demand has been huge. We have had lots of new clients, lots of old clients coming back, investing in Portugal, developing not only housing, but tourism, infrastructures, dams, infrastructure to produce energy like solar plants and wind plants. A lot of interest from companies that already had the know-how from France, from Israel, even from the US. And Yes, we are seeing, the economy is developing quite well. I was reading today on the news that Portugal is one of the only three countries in the EU where the economy grew this year already in the first semester. So Yes, we are having a good time now, and we see that. We see that with new clients, with new interests, and we even had to rearrange a bit to have more people in the office to cope with the demand and to have more focused teams on real estate and on licensings and on industrial projects and so on. We noticed that.
Lindsay: So that being said then, what do you think is the biggest challenge that you’re facing at the moment?
Tiago: In Portugal or at the office?
Lindsay: Let’s say at the office.
Tiago: At the office, when times are good, the challenges are accepted with joy.
Lindsay: Of course.
Tiago: Especially because when the thing is, you have to reorganize to have bigger teams, to have more expertise, and to cope with the client’s demands, it’s easier than to think, okay, we have to do cuts or this business is not going well, so we have to change the direction, and we are not seeing that. It’s the opposite. We are seeing that we are being challenged to do more and to do better. And to do better is very important because the challenge with new clients, especially with foreign clients, is that we get people with newer perspectives and new approaches to the problems, which means that we get new ideas, we get to think about new solutions and new ideas, and it brings us better perspectives, and we develop with the clients, we develop with the new ideas, we develop with studying more, and with bringing newer people to the teams. And the challenges are, as usual.
I think we ended the last conversation on this topic. The thing is, people. So, the challenge is always to find good people and to get along with good people, and to motivate the teams to cope with the demands. That’s it.
Lindsay: Yes, that absolutely makes sense. So, what would you say then, do you think the market is going to look like and the firm is going to look like maybe in the next two years? I hate to look too far in the future because I think we really don’t know what’s going to happen, but maybe in the next couple of years.
Tiago: Well, our firm is already 20 years, 19 years now. So, we have seen ups and downs and new locations and new ideas and so on. And we know that things can be seen in short periods of, like a chart, or you can see it in a longer term, which is the perspective I like the most, because in a longer term, you see more stability than ups and downs. And you can drive the office and you can drive the teams for steadier work and to keep progressing, even though you say, okay, the next six months, whether there are elections or there’s something that doesn’t go well, or you are, okay, you have one and a half months in the summer where everyone is lying at the beach. But okay, you know that in the end of that, come September, you’ll return to the activity, you’ll have the demand again, and you have to motivate people to keep reading, studying, talking to each other, writing a few articles for the team and for the office to keep developing, even though you may not be multiplying the business every month.
But you know that when the time comes, you have everything ready for it. And the time comes, it’s just a matter of looking at the trend, seeing what the areas are, and developing it. I think that in the next two years, it is quite safe to say that real estate energy and, as usual, tax will be the major areas on development. Real estate, we already see. Tax is everywhere, so you cannot go around anywhere in the world. It is what it is. And the energy sustainability, we must focus on these, and it’s a key concern for all economies. So, it’s something that we have to keep thinking about.
And for a law firm, it means a lot of work on real estate because it depends on having ground to put the facilities in. On having huge transformations, if you are talking about hydro on dams or even on producing wind-based energy on the sea or anywhere, it means a huge transformation in the landscape, and that means also that you have to take care about environment and safety and so on. And then it’s also the part of the insurances and the connection to the state, meaning licensings and connecting to the grids and so on, and prices on energy, which come from European regulation and so on. So, there is a massive work when we talk about energy. Either, we started thinking about energy, I don’t know, in 2008 on oil and gas, and now we are only thinking about solar and electricity from water, clean energy, which is a huge transformation, but it also means huge investments.
These investments are not, well, they are probably not so huge as oil and gas on platform rigs and so on, but they are huge. And they mean huge transformations also on environment. So, we also have to take care about that. So, I think these are the major points to be developed, and that will keep the work interesting, let’s say. And then of course, we always have the families and the estate planning and the running business on institutions that we go along with and that we have as clients for many years.
Lindsay: Absolutely. You talked a lot about sustainability from the client perspective, which I think is really important because that’s what’s going to drive what’s happening in the environment around us. But I’m curious about it from the perspective of law firms themselves. Do you think that law firms also need to be looking at their own ESG goals and being more sustainable themselves?
Tiago: Surely, I do think so. And I think the newer generations are more aware of that and are more willing to stop using paper, to use less energy, to work more from home, and not to run the car to the office and then run back and so on. I think they’re more focused on that, and it is easier to older lawyers that need the paper and need to print everything, and they want to have the files in front of them and read things, read it on paper, and so on. So, I think that first step will become the generation gap. We are seeing it happening. In my case, I almost don’t use paper, and I’m not the youngest guy at the office, of course, because I’ve been there for many years.
But what I see is that younger lawyers, the younger generations tend to do it easier. But I think that, and what we see here is that that concern comes along or is a bit enforced also on the buildings that we use and the machinery, the energy consumption. But in Portugal, that’s being also a bit enforced by the state, meaning that if you have the office or a house with a lower energy efficiency evaluation, you have higher taxes and you are not forced, but you are invited to upgrade it, to have solar panels, to use less energy, to make it more efficient, to change the windows, to have better insulation, to use less the air conditioning, or use a better performance air conditioning.
And that forces the users, and also the law firms to think about it a bit better or a bit deeper, let’s say. But I think so, Yes. Although I don’t think lawyers are, or law firms are the concern on pollution. Of course, we use paper, but not much more than that. It’s our lives. It’s the way we think about, okay, should I go to the office every day? Do I need the air conditioning from 7:00 to 7:00? Do I need to print everything? It’s more individual than, we are not using vessels and we are not burning energy to work. Well, we are, but not directly.
Lindsay: Right. Not in the same way as some of the bigger corporations are.
Lindsay: Yes. So, what would you say is the biggest area that’s related to either the practice of law or your industry in particular that you’re curious about at the moment?
Tiago: Real estate in Portugal has been developing in so many different ways. On energy production, on tourism, on industry, on private clients and housing. The demand is quite high. The solutions in Portugal are quite good. The regulation is quite accurate, and focused on clients, on the market, let’s say. Also, because it represents a big revenue for the state in tax, as there are many, many operations. That 2.1 area, I would say, one area that has been developing a lot and that we are quite interested in is real estate and that we have been working a lot with. Then the other areas are more things that we like to do and that… Well, the part of the work with public transports, it’s also quite important, and it’s quite interesting, because it gives us many new ideas and many new outputs of our work because we take care of public [inaudible 00:25:36], we talk with the developers of the technology, we talk with the operators of the transports, with the public authorities that organize and are the concessioners of the public transport grid.
And you have this IP of the flow and the need to bring everything together to serve a huge population for a million people, which I wouldn’t say isn’t that much of a challenge, because my team is very used to doing that. We have been doing this since 2010. But it’s really interesting, and it really motivates me. Even new lawyers that come to the team, they’re really amazed with, wow. The people that come along and say, “Okay, I enter the underground, I put the ticket in, and what’s everything behind this?” And that’s quite interesting.
Lindsay: That’s really cool. That must be fun work.
Lindsay: So, wrapping up, I always like to ask this question. What is something that has nothing to do with work that you’re really enjoying right now?
Tiago: Doing this in August, its reading, family, and going to the beach.
Lindsay: That’s a great answer. I was thinking about it recently, and I realized that sports teams have their off season, and I don’t see why professionals don’t get their off season too. So, I think this is the off season for legal professionals. So, I think that’s really important.
Tiago: Yes, but we noticed that a lot in Europe. August is, it’s not a dead month, but it’s very calm, a lot of people on holidays, and it’s really the time to enjoy a bit of relaxation, keep breathing, keep thinking about the subjects, write a few notes for yourself, speak to nice people, as we are doing, have good ideas, and rest a bit. Yes.
Lindsay: Right, and then September really kicks off. Yes, exactly, exactly. Do a little vacation, maybe vacation in July, but also recuperate a little bit, and then it really kicks off in September again.
Lindsay: Yes. Well, Tiago, thank you so much, I really appreciate you doing this and talking with us. This has been a really interesting conversation, and thank you so much to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another guest, and in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much.
Given the current state of the world, I thought it would be prudent to dust off a post from last year and update it to reflect how I’ve been feeling and what we’ve been doing to navigate the multitude of global issues that we’re all watching unfold in real time.
I saw a quote that said that adulthood is not one crisis after another, it’s multiple crises, simultaneously, forever.
This regularly makes the rounds on social media now because it resonates with all of us. But it doesn’t feel big enough somehow for the very real and utterly devastating things that people are experiencing – some of them, people that we know and care deeply about.
There are plenty of articles that detail the psychological trauma that we can experience just from seeing images of war and death secondhand, so I cannot even fathom what people are enduring as their daily lives develop. Not to mention the constant fear due to lack of safety, access to resources, etc. that many people globally live with every day, both in and out of war zones.
These events prompt reflection on the art of crisis management – it seems frivolous, but if the pandemic times have taught us nothing, it’s that somehow, work goes on, even during crisis. Sometimes, we work because it helps us to keep a routine to cope with crises.
“Prioritize Humanity” – In times of uncertainty, leading with empathy and a human touch is paramount. It’s acceptable to acknowledge our collective apprehensions about an uncertain future. Demonstrating shared concerns while pledging to guide others through turbulent times is an essential leadership quality.
Incorporate Compassion and Patience – The past few years have been marked by upheaval. We have all been witnesses to real-time global events. While some have returned to traditional office settings, others are still crafting remote or hybrid work models. The one-size-fits-all approach is no longer feasible. Individuals need flexibility, and mistakes will inevitably occur. Responding with understanding and patience is essential to smooth transitions.
Self-Care Matters – Self-care is often regarded as a cliché, yet it holds real significance. We aren’t referring to indulgent luxuries; rather, it encompasses the establishment of boundaries and schedules. Even if you are accustomed to remote work, a purposeful approach to managing your time can yield a considerable improvement in focus and productivity. This is especially important when dealing with crises that are relevant to marginalized communities – if you, as a leader are affected, are you ensuring that you are getting the care that is needed? Have you created safe spaces for those communities within your workplace for them to come together or take the space and time they need?
Enhance Communication – Effective communication is more critical than ever. Whether you are working remotely or not, maintaining consistent, valuable communication with your team is a fundamental aspect of leadership. It not only offers valuable resources but also assures your team of your unwavering support.
Foster a Sense of Community – Building a sense of community is a strategy worth considering. Even though virtual events may not entirely replace the experience of in-person gatherings, they can serve as a bridge to maintain a shared culture and support network. Now that many of us are in person again, ensure that you are fostering community and discussion around these issues that can feel really divisive too – training or outside facilitation may be necessary to ensure that you’re able to do this with care and consideration, but taking folks off their devices to have real, face-to-face conversations can ensure a connected workplace that allows people to feel that they’re able to bring their full selves to the office.
In times of crisis, one undeniable truth remains: unity is a source of strength. People come together to make a difference.
Uday Ahlawat is a co-managing partner of Ahlawat & Associates in New Delhi, India, and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and Uday discuss the changing marketplace that law firms are facing post-COVID, what makes India so attractive for businesses, and how law firms as businesses are driving efficiency.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Uday Ahlawat from Ahlawat & Associates in New Delhi. Uday, we’re so happy to have you with us on the podcast this week. Thank you for joining us.
Uday: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Lindsay: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your law firm and your practice?
Uday: I’m Uday Ahlawat. I’m the managing partner of our firm. We are a full-service firm, headquartered in New Delhi and offices in two other cities in India, Chandigarh and Mumbai. I co-head the corporate commercial practice of our firm. Primarily, this involves looking into foreign investments coming in, structuring those, and various other nuances around that.
That’s a little brief about me. As a firm, like I mentioned, it’s a full-service law firm operating PAN India. Being a federal jurisdiction, we are free to operate from anywhere in India, so we don’t need multiple offices. It’s easier to operate from any other city as well, so it helps us out, keeps costs down, and helps the business grow.
Lindsay: That’s very cool and that’s good to know. I didn’t realize that you could operate easily in multiple jurisdictions throughout India because of the jurisdictions. That’s similar to the US, but we also have state by state restrictions. We need local counsel as well.
Uday: The difference between US and India primarily is that once you’re enrolled with the Bar Council, you can practice anywhere in India. Unlike the US, where you have to be enrolled with state-specific bars. In India, it’s not that. I can practice south, north, anywhere. Hence, we are able to work. We have clients down south, which are 2,000 miles away sometimes. We are free to operate from here.
Lindsay: That’s incredible. Let’s jump into some questions. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment and how are you working to overcome that?
Uday: The biggest challenge at the moment, I would say, is more handling the resources within the firm. In the post-COVID era, people are still in that phase where they’re not fully comfortable being in the office. They’ve lost the habit to travel. Socially, they’re okay being alone in that sense. Working as a team and those kinds of things is not on their priority list.
At the moment actually, as a firm, we are going through that transition where people have come in, but we do see challenges as well in that front. We are trying to work around it. I think it’s not just limited to the legal industry. It spreads across to other companies as well. But as a firm, we are going through it. The second challenge, of course, is that as a country, we were very late to corporate law per se. And that is something that has started growing now. Competition within our space has grown tremendously.
Of course, clients are taking advantage of the situation, because they have more choices. Everybody is willing to undercut. My majority time has now started going in resource and client management rather than actual execution. Because as a managing partner, I’ve had to undertake that role to ensure that the firm continues to grow in the correct manner, and we continue to keep our clients happy and also bring in new clients all the time. That’s a huge transition that I’ve had to go through. Especially in the last one year and more in the last six months than before. These are the biggest challenges at the moment that we are facing.
Lindsay: Those are really two very difficult challenges for you to face at the same time, because I would think that people resource-wise … That would be really difficult to find good talent to both want to work and to stay competitive.
Uday: It’s a very strange situation. It’s the same people who used to travel earlier without any issues, and now all of a sudden, it’s the same people saying, “We live too far. The travel time is really high.” Those kinds of things. It’s a very difficult balance that one has to create in that sense. For the first time. It’s been a year now. We never needed HR. We have full … It’s an outsourced HR, but we need it desperately now.
Because as partners, six of us here, it gets very difficult to handle people issues all the time. So, it’s HR who has to deal with it. We’ve in fact started compensating and started giving people a travel allowance to allow people to stay as well. We are one of very few firms, maybe less than 1% of the firms who do that. But as an incentive, we had to start doing that.
We actually compensate up to a certain amount every month to every single resource in the firm. These are just ways we are having to innovate, which were never thought of, which you couldn’t even probably question when I started my career. Because at that time, just having a job was a big thing. These are all new things that we are trying to deal with, but it’s a challenge.
It’s a good challenge. We are learning as we go along. I think times have changed, post-COVID especially, and we have to adapt. Everybody has to do that, but as a firm, we also have a very strict policy of being in-office. We don’t have the flexibility anymore.
Lindsay: I agree with that. What I’m wondering about is … You’re talking about adapting. Do you see this as a way that we’re as a marketplace shifting into? Or do you think we might shift back to what we were doing pre-COVID?
Uday: Well, at least in India. I don’t know about the rest, but it’s slowly going back to where we were earlier. The efficiency is not the same. Depending on which field you’re in. But at least in our field, the efficiency is not the same. Especially, when you require teamwork. Everybody leaves the office at a reasonable time. They have a life post-office.
Working from home, they were just working as per their convenience. They were working late nights, early mornings. Whatever. But here now, they understand that it’s good to be in a routine. You come into the office at a certain time, leave the office by a certain time, and have your life back in that sense. Because social exposure is needed, it’s the need of the hour, especially post-COVID. Somewhere people are starting to realize that.
Also, the efficiency bit is very important. It’s not the same when you’re in your own comfort zone all the time. Once in a while, it’s fine, but being in your comfort zone all the time … It just reduces efficiency to an extent. Especially in our profession, because you need to concentrate. You need to be alert at all times. Not having that can lead to disaster for the client. It is something that people are starting to understand slowly. They are happy with it.
One thing very interesting that we’ve also started doing is we’ve started having more social activities, which obviously revolve around drinking. This Friday, we have another big one. Everybody’s looking forward to it, because we have a long weekend after that. Everybody is actually excited about it now. It’s going to be a nice long evening. They’re slowly understanding the social part of it and why it’s important.
But for us, HR has been very important to explain that. Because as partners, we can only explain to a point or only dedicate that much time. That is one rule I think which will become very important going forward, from resource management and everything. I think HR will start playing a much more important role now than they have ever done.
Lindsay: It’s really interesting how law firms will move more towards a business model. Even more so than before, it seems like.
Uday: The US was obviously a pioneer in that where they had CEOs, COOs, and those kinds of things within law firms. It’s becoming a common practice here as well. You have CEOs, you have CFOs, all these things are there in firms now. For example, even within our firm, we have a marketing and business development team separately, which is apart from the lawyers.
It is going towards a business model. They do work on sales in that sense. They do get incentivized for it as well. It’s actually becoming more like a business as you correctly pointed out, but there’s no other way. Yes, we are professionals at the end of the day. It’s a service that we provide, but we need to look at it more like a business now than ever. I think that’s very important.
Lindsay: Speaking of business. Talk to us about the current state of the market and what that means for your clients.
Uday: Of course, India has its own challenges. The market is … We are somewhat in a good position overall. Compared to the West, especially. Yes, we do have affinities to certain countries, which are not in favor with the West. But as a nation, because we are growing in a certain way, they have to maintain those. There’s a background to it. But anyways, the point is that business is good because of these reasons.
For us, also the fact that post-COVID, I think there’s been a change in mindset towards China, which is helping other economies within Southeast Asia. Not just India, but Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. A lot of things are moving to these places. There is a lot of concentration of business moving towards India, which is of course helping us from where we were three years ago. We’ve actually doubled because of that in terms of our size. So, it’s good.
We do have an election coming in about eight months, which is the national elections for the prime minister. We do expect a slowdown six months before that, because things go on hold in that sense. Keeping fingers crossed. Let’s hope it doesn’t slow down too much in that sense. But overall, the market is good. Nothing compared to what’s going on in the West. Inflation is under control, and we are providing a viable alternative.
Plus, the biggest difference that India has compared to, say, China or even other Southeast Asian countries … Globally, we have the largest concentration of the middle class, which means that the purchasing capacity is there. A lot of businesses want to come here, because they also have a ready-made market. We are the biggest now in terms of population anyway. Even getting a 2% share is about $28 million maybe. It’s a fairly large market in terms of that. We can’t complain. Let’s put it that way.
Lindsay: Very favorable, I would say. What’s the biggest area that’s related to your practice or even in your industry that you’re curious about?
Uday: At this moment, like I mentioned, data protection is something new that’s come in. India is … A lot of people don’t know this, but in terms of the financial and digital side, we have one of the largest economies because we went digital many years ago. The concept of making online payments, whether through an app, has been there in India for many years. That’s where the maximum change is also coming. Because obviously, as the government learns from time to time, mistakes were made initially.
They’re constantly making those changes. Hence, we’ve got these data protection rules, we’ve got other guidelines that have come in. But this is the area that’s seeing the maximum growth, the financial businesses, the FinTech businesses as we call them now, and the digital businesses. Everything is going online. The other area that’s strangely growing very fast as well is the gaming sector.
I’m not very happy about it, because I’ve got a four-and-a-half and a nine-year-old at home who are getting exposed to it. But it is an industry that as a firm we specialize in. We are amongst the top five firms in the country who specialize in that sector. And it is a very fast-growing area. It’s something that we expect to grow even more, because we already have close to more than one hundred million people, users of that industry in that sense, who are already into gaming.
Data costs are the lowest in the world in India. Everybody can just be on their mobile 24/7 and keep playing and it makes zero difference. Everything is moving online. It’s more and more. It was already there, but now that concentration is just increasing and increasing in that sense. That’s where the boom is coming in India, and we expect that to last for another five to 10 years at least.
Lindsay: That’s really just incredible. Those numbers are just … I can’t even fathom.
Uday: We don’t do small numbers in anything. With the kind of population we have, small numbers don’t exist.
Lindsay: Switching gears, a little bit. Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
Uday: It’s very hard to hide considering what’s behind me at the moment. A lot of people get surprised when they walk into my room, “Is this a lawyer’s office?” Because probably, you can’t see all of them, but there’s three of them. One is to do with cricket and two with Michael Jordan. Sports is something that I thrive on, and it’s something that a lot of people don’t understand why I do it. I do it for my mind.
If I don’t do it, my brain doesn’t work or function the same way. That’s one of the few things that people don’t really know too much about me in that sense. I wake up every morning at 5:00 to ensure that I get my dose of sports first thing in the morning. That’s irrespective of what time I sleep. Sometimes it’s just four hours of sleep, five hours of sleep, and I’ll still be on the tennis court in the morning at the desired time.
I travel a lot and I have a very strange habit, which was put into me by my first senior who I worked with. You will never get an “Out of office,” reply from me. You will always get a reply within 24 hours from me. Some people say I have OCD about it, but I think it’s just professional courtesy that I have, because I don’t like anybody knowing where I am firstly.
Even if I’m at an island conference, nobody will know I’m there unless you put up pictures and tag me like you do. Then, they realized I was there in that stage. But generally, as a habit, my first senior put this in my head. Because she never did it and she said, “It just takes two seconds to reply as a partner, and then you just have to delegate,” which stuck to me. I send out a reply, connect them to the appropriate person, and that’s about it. It’s just one of those finicky things that are set in me.
Lindsay: That’s great. I love that. It makes you more mysterious too.
Uday: Whether I’m on a family holiday or a professional trip, you’ll never know.
Lindsay: That’s right. Or in the office.
Uday: Because you’ll only get a reply.
Lindsay: You could be anywhere. You could be right in your office or anywhere in the world. That’s the deal.
Uday: My response time is always 24 hours irrespective. As a professional and as a service provider, as I call myself sometimes, I think that’s what differentiates you. Sometimes it’s just the attention to these small things, because they actually don’t take very long. If you have a system in place, they don’t.
And then, today’s day and age. With technology, with everything, it takes literally 30 seconds sometimes to reply to a mail. It doesn’t need more than that. Or a message. It’s not something difficult to do. People make a big deal out of it sometimes. “I was busy. I couldn’t get to respond.” It shouldn’t take that long. That’s just one of those things that’s embedded in me, to be honest.
Lindsay: I have often found over my career that the busiest people are the best at responding to emails. They’re the ones that you always hear back from within 24 hours. The people that are not as good at it are the ones who make excuses. Somehow, they’re the ones who are just not as good at it.
Uday: Not at the cost of being offensive or rude, but I always categorize people in two categories. One are the doers, and one are the ones who are just happy or content with where they are. Both are equally essential to the ecosystem, but the ones who are content or happy with that limited growth don’t want to do more than that. They’re your workhorses as well. You need them.
It’s not that you can’t do it without them, which is fine, but the ones who are the doers will do things at any point of time. They will also be available for other things at the same time. Time management is one of the biggest skills. I was lucky to be taught that professionally by my seniors when I started my career. Somewhere that is one of the most essential skills a lawyer should be taught when they join any organization. I don’t know how many people spend time on it, but we do.
We as a firm do that. We try and tell people how to manage their time a little better, how to go about things a little better, how to be more efficient. And then, they do see the results, because we don’t have people working late unless it’s really an emergency. But it’s become a norm amongst the legal profession that one should work late, one has to work late, with which I don’t agree.
I come at a reasonable time, I go at the reasonable time, and rest in between. If I have to respond to a couple of emails, it doesn’t take me too long. Those kinds of things. That time management skill is something which is very important. Unless firms start focusing on that, it’s always going to be a detriment in their growth path.
Lindsay: I absolutely agree with you. I am curious now. You said for your firm, and in India in general, people are back to the office. I’m wondering for countries and cultures where it is still more remote and may stay remote, whether they are going to effectively ever going to get that time management piece?
If they start to train people where it is more remote, and they never really get to that time management piece with the younger lawyers … I don’t know if it is necessarily something that other law firms do really train young lawyers on.
Uday: Well, I feel it’s counterproductive not to train them, because at the end of the day, it makes your life simpler.
Uday: We follow a system of six minimum hours a day. That we should concentrate on six effective hours. Obviously, you’re in the office for longer than that, but that’s your concentration level for any human being, we feel. And if you’re able to concentrate for those six, you don’t need to be in the office for more than eight, nine hours at any given point of time. Maybe it works differently for other firms.
Everybody should choose what works for them, but this is what works for us in that sense. We try and focus on those six hours during the day. We need to put in that effective six hours, and everything just flows. In India, everything starts late. Our office generally starts anywhere between 10:00 to 10:30. But if you see, by 7:00, most people have left. That’s nine hours in the office and it’s effective. People are happier. They go home at a reasonable time. They don’t have a rush in the morning as well. It’s a good balance that is there.
Of course, there are times when we do spend more time, we do leave later, but that’s fine. But that’s a one-off situation. Rest is very easily manageable within those hours. These are things that younger lawyers need to learn, but it’s their seniors’ responsibility to teach them. I was lucky to have good seniors when I started the profession, and I try to pass that on to people in the firm as well. But I genuinely feel bad for people who are missing out on that piece. It affects their growth.
Sometimes they just get demotivated. We’ve seen so many cases of people quitting their professions, jobs by the time they’re 27, 28, because either they’re burnt out or bored or frustrated or whatever the reasons are. That’s purely because the surroundings or the system did not support them. If they had the right support and right guidance, I think every profession, every office could be very interesting.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Absolutely. You’ve talked a lot about the seniors that you had early in your career. Who would you say has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Uday: I started my career with one of the biggest law firms in India. There’s a firm called JSA. I worked with multiple partners there initially, but one of the partners of the corporate commercial team, Neena Gupta, she’s now the global GC of the largest airline in India. She was one of the mentors for me. She was very brutal as well at times, which I needed, to be honest.
I was not the easiest kid on the block in those days, but she also gave me a lot of perspective in life in terms of as a profession. I became serious about the profession when I realized it’s about how hard you want it to be or how simple it can be at times. You need to find that balance and create that balance within what we are doing. She taught me a lot and I picked up from there.
But as a firm, that was a really good firm I used to work with. Just the principles and the systems they had were amazing. That was the first law firm in India. A full-service law firm with, at that stage, more than two hundred lawyers. There are more than five hundred now, which didn’t have an equity buy-in. Anybody could become a partner. As an associate, we could all see that. It was a vision that was created that you can get there.
We have the same principle in our office. All the equity partners, apart from the founding partners are all … There’s been no buy-in. They’ve been elevated from within the firm. Everybody sees that. It motivates the younger lot as well to work harder, because they can see that vision. They can see that it will go somewhere and also keeps them in one place in that sense that. Because most firms still don’t allow that, and globally, they don’t allow that. So, I think that’s a huge factor.
These are things I picked up from that place. I worked in a couple of places before I started this firm. I brought in the corporate side into this firm. The firm was already there, but it was these principles that I came in with. Whatever I do, I have to continue following what I believe in and how people stay with me. That’s the reason that the first lawyer we ever got onboard, who’s now an equity partner, is still with us. And it applies to a lot of the other people who are still growing within the ranks as well.
Lindsay: That’s great. I really like that. Finishing up. What would you say is one thing that you’re really enjoying right now that has nothing to do with work? It’s always the toughest question.
Uday: I think I’m enjoying the balance, to be honest. I’m generally enjoying the balance that we’ve been able to create, because it gives me time with my kids who are at a very good age. Very soon, they’ll be out of control. It’s good to be able to spend time with them where you can dictate a few terms. It’s not going to happen for very long. I know that. So, I’m enjoying that phase.
And the fact that work gives me the ability to do that as well. That balance is there. And the fact that I still get to travel, I still get to meet people. I genuinely enjoy traveling to these conferences as well. It’s always nice to just meet a different set of people. I generally look forward to these now. Outside of work, this is what’s keeping me sane as well, I would say, because I tend to get bored easily.
Unless I’m doing something or the other, it just gives me a way. One thing I’m really looking forward to, and maybe I’m still a couple of years from that, I love to drive. I used to love driving into the mountains, but then after my second one, we had to stop that. Plus, COVID came. Because he was too young. We had a target in mind that once he’s five … We’ve done short drives now. We’ve done everything.
Now, I’m looking forward to going back to the hills every now and then. It’s not very far from Delhi where we are staying. Earlier, if there was even just a three-day weekend, we’d pick up the car in the morning and just go. I’m actually looking forward to that as well. Hopefully, next year onwards, that’s going to start as well.
Lindsay: He’s almost five.
Uday: Yes. He can sit in one place now. That’s what we were waiting for.
Lindsay: That’s great. That’s great. Well, thank you very much. This has really been wonderful. I appreciate it. Thank you so much to all of our listeners. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. We’ll be back next week with our next guest. Thank you so much.
Uday: Thank you.
As the Halloween season creeps in, we’re delving into the spooky world of business development. Just like a thrilling Halloween tale, there are chilling mistakes lawyers often make in their quest for business growth. In this post, we’ll unearth these eerie errors and show you how to steer clear of them.
Business development may seem like something that should naturally lead to success, but it often feels like throwing jello at the wall, with most of it ending up in a messy heap on the floor. To succeed in business development, you need clear, measurable goals. Why? Because specific, measurable goals inform your plan, strategies, and tasks. The more precise your goals, the easier it is to determine your next steps.
Take Halloween, for example. Setting a goal like “having the best Halloween ever” is vague and immeasurable. What defines “the best”? It’s too subjective.
Instead, aim for something specific and measurable, like “Spend every weekend in October on fall or Halloween-themed activities, culminating in hosting a small costume party for under 25 people.” This goal specifies your intention to engage in Halloween or fall-themed activities and includes a timeframe (each weekend in October and Halloween night), a guest count (under 25), and the number of activities (five weekends plus the party).
Now apply this precision to your business development efforts. What’s your specific, measurable goal?
In the world of business development, failing to plan is akin to planning to fail. Picture a mysterious butler in a haunted mansion delivering this message. Yes, it’s a Halloween-themed post – enjoy the spine-tingling atmosphere.
Jokes aside, this brings us to frightful BD mistake number two. Having a specific, measurable goal isn’t enough; you must craft a detailed plan. Imagine setting out in September with grand intentions for an October filled with activities and a spooktacular party. But, as always, life gets hectic, other plans emerge, and your idyllic hayride or apple-picking adventure remains a dream.
This is where a well-defined plan comes into play. Instead of leaving it to chance, imagine sitting down one weekend in September to list all the activities you want to do in October, review available options, and create a schedule for the month ahead. With this approach, you’d be well-prepared. You could select a date for your Halloween party, create a guest list, send out save-the-dates, check your decorations, shop for missing items, plan your menu and cocktails, and even prepare your costume well in advance. On the big night, you’d welcome your guests in style, with your home impeccably prepared and decorated (or ominously foreboding, as your heart desires).
Your Halloween preparations are now a reflection of your BD plans. How can you create a comprehensive plan for business development to ensure success?
A plan is only as effective as its execution. If you create a plan and then forget about it, it won’t yield results.
Back to our Halloween party analogy – imagine you made meticulous lists of everything you needed for your Halloween party in September. You knew the food, decorations, costume, drinks, and the guest list. But after creating these lists, you set them aside, got distracted, and suddenly, it’s the week of Halloween.
You sent out invitations via email, but most of your friends already have plans. You began decorating with what you had, only to discover that stores had replaced Halloween decorations with Christmas trees. It’s too late to order anything online for timely delivery. Your dream Halloween costume is sold out, leaving you with one you’re not excited about. You end up staying up late the night before the party, preparing food and buying candy and cocktails, but only five guests show up, far from your expectations.
You can have a flawless plan, but unless you schedule and execute the steps in a timely manner, you’ll feel rushed, and your relationships may suffer. Any business development plan should be a living document, continually revised as you learn what works best for you. So, don’t jot down a couple of goals and ideas in early January only to forget about them until November 15th, attempting to cram 12 months of BD into the last six weeks of the year.
While stepping out of your comfort zone can be beneficial, you don’t have to engage in BD activities you despise.
Are you allergic to hay? Skip the hayrides. Petrified of ghosts? Avoid the haunted mansion. Do tiny ghosts and goblins give you the heebie-jeebies? Sidestep trick-or-treating. Do masks terrify you? Opt for a wig instead.
Just as there are countless ways to celebrate Halloween, there are numerous paths to successful business development. If you detest public speaking, don’t volunteer to keynote an industry event. If writing isn’t your forte, don’t force yourself to be a blogger. If podcasting isn’t your thing, explore other avenues. If large networking events make you uncomfortable, find a more suitable approach.
By focusing on activities you genuinely enjoy, you’ll be more likely to follow through with your BD plan. Collaborate with your marketing department, BD professionals, or external consultants to identify activities that align with your interests. If you’re unsure, experiment with new approaches. Finding new clients or securing work from existing clients becomes much more enjoyable when you’re engaged in activities you genuinely like.
I’ve lost count of the times lawyers have told me they rely solely on word of mouth for business development.
Yes, we’re in the relationship business. Yes, reputation matters. Yes, word of mouth is crucial in certain practice areas.
However, it should not be your sole strategy.
Why do I say this?
Because if your clients are talking about you, you should know what they’re saying. That means you need to be skilled at managing your relationships. Are you, and ideally someone else in your firm, regularly sitting down with your clients to understand why they’re satisfied with your work? Do you know why they recommend you and, more importantly, why they wouldn’t? Are you aware of the work you’re not doing for them, and do you understand the reasons behind it? Managing existing clients is as vital for business development as acquiring new ones, if not more so.
Imagine hosting your Halloween party by inviting only your best friend and hoping they’ll invite everyone else you want to attend. It’s unlikely to work. Instead, be specific about who you want to invite, and if you’d like your best friend to invite others, discuss your preferences with them. Apply the same principle to your clients.
Halloween can be a time of frightful surprises, but with careful planning and attention, you can achieve spooky success in your business development endeavors. Have a hauntingly successful Halloween, everyone!
While I’m out of the office for our 2023 European Regional Conference in Prague, I am bringing you a guest post from a familiar writer – you may remember hearing from Alina Crisu of LLPO Law Firm in Nicosia, Cyprus previously when she wrote about Optimisation – the key to success in a crowded market or Trending topics…a fool’s errand? or when we had her on as a guest on our podcast. This week, she’s discussing myths about legal marketing.
Before diving into the intriguing world of debunking myths about legal marketing, let’s make one thing crystal clear: We’re not here to rain on anyone’s parade.
The below series of myths are purely for entertainment purposes, not for your next courtroom strategy.
I encourage you to share your thoughts, anecdotes, questions, and even your own myths about how marketers perceive the legal realm.
So, without further ado, let’s unveil the myths and debunk them one by one. Here’s to enlightening discussions and a legal marketing world without the shadow of doubt!
While it’s true that legal work can be intricate and specialized, the idea that marketers and business development specialists can’t grasp its unique nature is, well, a myth. In fact, collaboration between legal professionals and marketing experts can lead to a harmonious blend of expertise that benefits both parties and the firm as a whole.
This understanding empowers them to develop tailored strategies that promote the growth and success of law firms in an increasingly competitive legal landscape. Marketers and Business Development specialists bring valuable skills in identifying target markets, building client relationships, and implementing successful marketing campaigns.
By implementing effective cross-training and communicating clear objectives the lawyers can provide invaluable insights into the intricacies of legal work and help marketing teams to tailor their strategies effectively.
Complex industries that have marketing and business development teams: Technology & IT, Finance, Investment, Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, Aerospace, etc.
Some lawyers believe that their reputation and word-of-mouth referrals are enough to sustain their practices. However, in today’s competitive legal landscape, effective marketing is essential for attracting new clients and staying ahead of the competition.
Marketing is necessary to build a robust online presence, create engaging content marketing, foster professional relationships, utilizing targeted advertising, and prioritizing client satisfaction. These are key pillars of a successful legal marketing strategy. Such elements not only enhance a law firm’s reputation but also play a vital role in attracting and retaining clients in today’s digital age.
If Coca Cola, Mercedes, Tiffany and other renowned companies have a marketing team then so should your law firm.
Another common myth is that marketing is only relevant for large law firms with substantial budgets. In reality, marketing strategies can be tailored to fit any law firm’s budget, size, and goals. Even small and solo practitioners can benefit from targeted marketing efforts. Hiring a generalist marketer who can then coordinate the strategy is ideal for small law firms.
Some lawyers mistakenly believe that marketing is unethical or unprofessional for the legal profession. Marketing is not inherently unethical for lawyers. In fact, legal marketing can be conducted ethically and is governed by specific rules and regulations set by legal authorities. These rules are designed to ensure that lawyers maintain high ethical standards while promoting their services.
It’s a common misperception that marketing falls exclusively under the purview of the designated marketing team or department within a law firm. However, in today’s legal landscape, this myth doesn’t hold true.
Every lawyer within the firm plays a role in marketing. Building personal networks, engaging with clients, and consistently delivering excellent legal services are all integral components of effective marketing efforts.
In essence, marketing isn’t just a department; it’s a collective effort that involves every member of the firm. Your actions, interactions, and dedication to client satisfaction all contribute to shaping the firm’s brand and reputation. So, remember, you’re not just a lawyer; you’re also a key player in the firm’s marketing success.
These myths are as mythical as a unicorn in a law library. In reality, marketing is a dynamic tool that can elevate the legal profession, helping lawyers and their firms flourish.
So, whether you’re a lawyer, a marketer, or somewhere in between, keep those discussions going, share your insights, and never stop seeking the truth in this ever-evolving legal marketing landscape.
May your campaigns be compelling, your clients be content, and your myths forever debunked!
David Gitlin is a partner with Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, a business law firm with an entrepreneurial spirit in Pennsylvania, and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and David discuss the importance of relationship-building for lawyers and how this can bring a great deal of fulfillment, why lawyers may want to be more cautious about AI (but not for the obvious reasons) and David’s surprising number of passions, given his 24/7 dedication to the law. For a look at a couple of the things that he mentions during the podcast, tune into his YouTube chats on classical music with his Swiss friend and former client at Pro&Fan and a look at Icelandic horses and their incredible gaits here.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffith, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network, and our guest this week is a returning guest, David Gitlin, from Royer Cooper Cohen and Braunfeld in Philadelphia, one of their several offices.
David, we are really happy to have you back with us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and the firm, and your practice?
David: Great. Well, David Gitlin. Nice to meet you all through the air. I’m a corporate M&A lawyer. Been practicing for 42 years. I do mostly M&A and venture capital work, so it’s mostly transactional work. I’m a deal guy. I do a lot of cross-border work, and I spent the bulk of my career in very big law firms.
So maybe I’ll talk about it later, but I started my career at a firm called WolfBlock, who at the time was probably one of the, if not the most, prominent firm in Philadelphia, and I spent 28 years, and we were ILN members. In fact, we were the largest firm in the ILN at the time. Then unfortunately, the firm broke up, and I moved to bigger firms, who were too big for ILN, and six years ago, I decided I had enough been in giant law firms, and I joined RCCB.
RCCB started five years before I joined, by people who left big firms and wanted to work in a different environment, more client-friendly, more entrepreneurial, more flexible, and I decided to join them as the fifth equity partner. I was lawyer number 27. We are now six years hence, and we are sixty-five lawyers.
Corporate is still the predominant practice of our firm. About half the lawyers in the firm are corporate lawyers. I chair the Corporate Department and we do very sophisticated work for our size.
We are Chambers-rated, both personally for many, many years, but the Corporate Department is Chambers-rated, which is really terrific, because we are one-tenth the size of the second-smallest rated firm, so it’s all the big boys and us,
Lindsay: And that really has a lot to do with the level of sophistication of both the work that you do, and the lawyers that you bring to the table, right?
David: Yes. We consider ourselves at par with a big law firm in terms of the level of sophistication of our work, and the kinds of lawyers we have, except in a small package.
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. So, what would you say is the biggest challenge that you’re facing at the moment, and how are you working to overcome it? And that can be personally you as a lawyer, or the firm as a whole.
David: Yes, so maybe I’ll touch upon both.
So personally, as a lawyer, I think my biggest challenge in the past several years was to find the right work life balance. I love to travel. I have many, many interests. On the other hand, I grew up with the mindset of being a 24/7 lawyer. I’m very hands-on. If you put the negative spin on that, I’m a control freak. And so it’s been hard to let go and find the right balance, but I think I’m at a point in time where I feel that I’m there or almost there, where I’m able to pursue a lot of different things, while at the same time have a very robust practice, and really not decrease my productivity at all, so it’s a nice place to be in terms of balance.
Lindsay: Do you think that came with experience? Did the pandemic show you that there was maybe more to life than being so hands-on? Was that just where you were in your career?
David: I think it’s a combination, right? It’s where I was. I’m at a point in my career where I could retire if I wanted to, but having said that, I’m still working hard. But there is that mindset of let’s find the right balance. I don’t have to do everything.
The pandemic was a game changer. I never imagined that I would, for example, work from home, and now we’re back in the office part-time. I go to the office twice a week. Some people go more than I. I love working from home. Not sure my wife loves it, but I love it, and it’s been a real game changer.
Also, for some reason, even though we were really, really busy during the pandemic, we had the best two years in the firm’s history financially, which is overwhelming. I was doing all kinds of things that I never had time to do. I was taking Italian lessons, I was studying art, I was doing all kinds of stuff. So it was obviously difficult from one respect, you’re being cooped up at home and not seeing friends and family, and worrying about people’s health, but on the other hand, it was a game changer.
In terms of the firm’s challenge, it’s an interesting process. So, we are in the process of converting from a small firm to a mid-size firm and putting in place the right support around us to help us achieve that, while at the same time trying to preserve our culture. We do not want to be the kind of place where we left. We like the fact that we are very collegial, friendly, entrepreneurial, and flexible, and everybody has a say. So, we’re trying to find, okay, how do we grow up? How do we become more business-like and more successful without losing that identity? And that’s an interesting challenge that we’re grappling with.
Lindsay: Yeah, I can imagine that must be … as you say, you don’t want to get larger and lose the things that make you special.
Lindsay: Absolutely. And so, in terms of the current marketplace, what does that mean for you and your clients? You’ve talked about what the firm looks like for you and your colleagues, but what does the current marketplace look like for you and your clients?
David: So, looking from the prism of my practice, and my colleagues’ practice, in the Corporate M&A area, we’ve been waiting for the recession to happen, and fortunately, it really hasn’t. We … and I don’t want to jinx anything … but we are really, really busy.
We do the middle market deals. We don’t do the giant deals, where there has been a slowdown, but in the middle market area, we happen to be very busy. And I don’t know whether that’s really appealing to everybody, or whether we’re benefiting from the fact that we have lower rates … equal quality, lower rates. It’s appealing in a time like this … but we’re across the board very busy. I am handling seven M&A deals right now, which is a lot. Fortunately, they’re not all moving at the same speed, but it’s enough to keep you really busy.
Lindsay: Yes, that’s a lot of deals at one time.
David: That’s a lot of deals, yes.
Lindsay: But that’s good. As you say, it keeps you busy. From what I’ve heard from other firms, it’s not dissimilar. I know at least in the US, inflation has come down, but still some areas the prices are still going up, and that can be attributed to the ongoing supply chain crisis and the war in Ukraine, so neither of those things are going to change anytime soon, so we just have to adapt.
Lindsay: Yes. So, switching gears a little bit, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know. You’ve told us that you took Italian lessons during the pandemic. We already know that you love art, and that’s something a lot of people know about you, but what is something that we don’t know about you?
David: Yeah, I don’t know that … people who know me probably know most of what I’m going to tell you. So, I’ll throw out a few things and you can elaborate if you want. So, I was born in Mexico, and I grew up in Israel, so I am a Mexican Israeli American, not that many of us.
Lindsay: That’s true.
David: Right. Well, you know, I have a YouTube channel where we post … a friend of mine who’s a classical musician in Zurich whom I met on an M&A deal, interestingly, which is a great story. He and I have a YouTube channel where we post video chats about classical music.
Lindsay: I love that.
David: So, if anybody’s interested, go to YouTube and search for Pro&Fan, P-R-O ampersand F-A-N, one word, and you’ll see our videos there.
Staying on the classical music scene, I collect handwritten letters from classical composers.
Lindsay: That I did know.
David: You did know … oh, wow. Okay.
I collect art, as you know.
I designed my house.
David: For many years I own and rode an Icelandic horse.
David: You didn’t know that?
Lindsay: I did not know that. That’s really interesting. Now, what’s different about an Icelandic horse to other types of horses?
David: They’re very different. First of all, they are the purest bred in the world, because there is a law in Iceland from the year 1000, that prohibits the importation of horses into Iceland, and if an Icelandic horse gets taken out of Iceland, they cannot come back.
Lindsay: Oh, wow.
David: So, it’s a purebred. It’s a small stocky breed, but it’s very, very strong and hardy and fast. And really, they were bred to carry big Viking people across rough terrain, over long distances, and they’re very special horses. They have five gaits or four gaits rather than three gates, and you can ride them at a pretty fast pace without posting. You know what posting is?
Lindsay: I don’t.
David: When you go up and down the saddle-
David: … when you trot, right? So, I could go 20, 25 miles an hour trotting, sitting down, no posting. They’re super-comfortable. In Iceland, they have these races. You can watch them on the internet. It’s unbelievable. They race the horses on frozen lakes, and the riders carry a big beer mug in their hands, and not only do you have to finish first, if you lose a certain quantity of beer from the mug, you’re disqualified.
Lindsay: So, the idea is that the horse’s gait is so smooth that you don’t lose any of your beer?
David: That you don’t spill the beer.
Lindsay: That’s incredible.
Lindsay: Wow. They must be amazing. I’m definitely going to look that up. We’ll put it in the show notes too, along with your music chats. That’s incredible.
David: That’s good.
Lindsay: They must be amazing.
David: And I’m going to Iceland tomorrow, so-
Lindsay: Oh, I didn’t realize that’s where your trip was. Oh, that’ll be amazing. It must be a beautiful time of year to be there, hopefully less humid than it is here in the Northeast.
David: Yes, well, it depends, right? Because it rains a lot, but-
David: But the temperatures really don’t vary there very much, because there’s light 24 hours, so the temperatures vary from the low forties to the upper fifties.
Lindsay: Wow, that sounds delightful right now, since it is 83 degrees here.
David: I know. If it doesn’t rain, it’ll be great.
Lindsay: Right. Yes, of course. Yes, that would be much better.
Okay, so who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
David: So, I mentioned WolfBlock, and at the time, and we’re talking about early eighties, it was a very different time. It was before computers, before internet, before cell phones, before everything, and WolfBlock happened to be a very intellectually rigorous firm, and people had the time to train you. You would work on an agreement, you would send out the agreement by mail, and you would wait a week or two until you got comments. I send comments to anywhere in the world, by the time I wake up, I have a markup.
So, it was a different pace, and the Chair of the Corporate Department when I joined the firm was a well-known lawyer who was a former Marine and was very demanding. He notoriously had a box of tissues in his desk, because he made people cry.
Lindsay: He made them cry.
David: And for some reason, he took a liking to me, and really mentored me. He drove me crazy, but I got the most amazing training, the stuff that you couldn’t possibly do today, when every minute counts.
Lindsay: Right, right. Yes, no, it’s interesting to look at the type of training that happens today, and then I think what we will be expecting 10 years from now, when so much will be done with artificial intelligence.
David: And yes, we actually just had one of our associate give a presentation on AI for lawyers at our monthly corporate lunch yesterday.
David: Yes, it’s a scary thought, frankly. I’m still in the old-fashioned range.
Lindsay: I can see … it’s interesting, because I’ve had a lot of discussions with different people about it, and in some ways I can see the benefits of taking off some of the more repetitive tasks from lawyers and allowing them to do the things that make lawyers so valuable to clients and giving that advice. But the thing that I’m really curious about is, how are these junior lawyers going to get to that point where they get that experience that makes them so good? I know where you’re at already and how you got there, but then how are the junior lawyers, if they’re not going to get that rigorous training, how are they going to get to that point?
David: Yes, in many ways, they don’t get rigorous training even without AI, just because of the economics of the firm and the pace of things. And now they get even less, because a lot of them are working remotely, so they don’t have day-to-day contact. That’s a problem.
The problem with AI is that it’s garbage in garbage out, right?
David: So, you get something that looks to be credible and good, and it could be complete nonsense, and people are not going to be disciplined enough to spend their time checking, because they went to AI to save time in the first place, and that’s the real problem. Also, there’s a certain level of common sense that you need to use, to use the information, and a machine doesn’t have that, the judgment.
Lindsay: Right, right.
David: To me, it’s scary to rely on it.
Lindsay: Well … and we saw that with the case where that lawyer tried to submit the false cases … where most of us thought-
David: He didn’t try to submit-
Lindsay: He did.
David: …. He thought they were real.
Lindsay: Right, and most of us thought, “How stupid can you be that you didn’t even check?” But as you say, if you’re already cutting corners by trying to go to AI and do that, then you’re not going to do the due diligence of checking.
David: It looks credible. You have the citation, and it looks credible, like-
Lindsay: Right. And if you don’t have the training to even have the experience where you know what looks credible and what doesn’t, then using AI is not going to get you the experience to understand what looks right and what doesn’t look right.
Lindsay: Yes, so there is a lot I think left to be done. Those more experienced people understand where that level of nuance is, but the kids coming up just don’t, and that’s really concerning. We’re a long way, I think, from using it with any sort of reliability, and if we don’t, then we’re in real trouble.
David: Yes. Of all the things that I worry about, just on a macro level, AI destroying the world is not quite there yet in my list.
Lindsay: No, me neither.
David: Right. You have the geopolitical situation, you have the internal political situation, you have global warming, which is overwhelming if you think about it. I read an article from one of the big publications that said that in … It was ’20 … I don’t remember if it was 2035 or 2050, one of those, within that time range … sixty million people are going to have to relocate.
David: Sixty million people are going to live in areas that are going to be uninhabitable by human beings. Think about it.
Lindsay: And the question is, where will they go?
David: Exactly. Let alone the human suffering associated with that. Think about the implications of that movement. Where are they going to go? All the issues that that are going to create. I think we’re completely unprepared to deal with that.
Lindsay: I agree with you. Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s not that long from now.
Lindsay: We’re talking about 25 years at the most, really. So yes, we’re absolutely unprepared to deal with that.
Lindsay: Wow, that’s depressing. So, on that, what would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career?
David: Well … so let me answer that a little indirectly. The most satisfying thing about my career has been the relationships that I have forged over the years. If you look at 80% of my close friends, they all started as clients. Even my Swiss partner, I met him randomly on an M&A deal, and then he contacted me because he saw my bio, and he saw that I liked classical music, and introduced himself. And now we’re obviously good friends, and we’ve been to Switzerland to meet them, and their family is lovely. But my closest friends are … most of them started as clients. You meet tons of interesting people. It has enriched my life far and above just pure practice of law, and so what does that teach you? It teaches you that you have to approach your job, really not as a job, but as a … it’s almost like a calling. You really need to care enough to put yourself in the client’s shoes, make their problems your problems, and feel like you are really contributing to somebody’s life.
I’m glad I’m a corporate lawyer and not a litigator, because it’s hard to find winners in litigation, but most of my clients are happy to call me. That means they’re about to become very wealthy and sell their business, or they’re getting financing that they need, or they’re going to buy a new business. It’s all good stuff, and so just approaching this like, “Okay, I care enough about the people. I care enough about making a difference in their lives,” I think that’s the biggest lesson that comes from … if the most important thing you have achieved is the relationships you have, what do you do to create those relationships?
Lindsay: Absolutely, and I think it says so much about … you were talking earlier about how you spent so much of your life at work, and I think when you do that, and the most important piece of that is the relationships, then it shows how much you really enjoy your work, and because you’ve spent so much time there, you should really enjoy it.
David: Yes, and in my case, it’s people all over the world. So, I’ve been very fortunate of having significant part of my practice be cross-border work, and so it used to be more fun than it is now, in a sense that before you would travel, you had face-to-face meetings, and the cultural differences were much more palpable, and the relationships you make. Now, it’s so much more difficult. You don’t have the fun of doing that. You don’t have the hassle, but also it’s not the same.
But throughout my career, I’ve done M&A deals in eighteen countries, maybe twenty countries, and I have friends in all these places, which is great.
Lindsay: That’s very cool. So, speaking of international deals, what does be part of the ILN mean to you?
David: Well, there are two aspects of it. There’s the personal aspect, so coming back to the network and reconnecting with people with which you were friendly. Some of them, you continue to be friendly throughout the years, but reconnecting with so many people. The familiarity, I think that’s for me, is a cool aspect of it.
From a business point of view, on the positive side, I think from the first quarter since we joined, we’ve been one of the most active in terms of outgoing referrals. For a firm of our size, we have made a ton of referrals.
David: From the perspective of getting referrals, it’s getting better, but nowhere near what we would like.
There is another aspect though, which is, I think it’s important to be able to say to clients and actually do it, that we have people we can rely on all over the world. I think that’s an important aspect of it, particularly for a firm our size, who does so much international work, but we are limited in geographical scope.
So, for example, as you know, I have six colleagues in six different countries, three different continents, all lined up to help me on an M&A deal that’s developing. That’s a good thing, to have your team all over the world, ready to work with. So, I consider that a big benefit.
Lindsay: That’s great. That’s what I like to hear. So, one last question before we wrap up. This is the one I always like to ask is what is one thing outside of work that you’re really enjoying right now?
David: Oh, that’s a tough question-
Lindsay: I know.
David: … because for me, because I enjoy a lot of stuff. Obviously, the stuff I am interested in and collect, but I think I would say, if I had to pick one thing … well probably I have two answers, two different answers. One is I enjoy learning, so I feel like if I didn’t learn something, it was not a complete day. So even just anything that … sometimes you read something and say, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” It’s a great feeling. It’s just like, even trivia stuff.
Can I tell you a story?
Lindsay: Yes, of course.
David: So, one of my favorite movies of all time is Chariots of Fire, and for years I wondered why it is called Chariots of Fire? And then I was reading something, and I was reading something about this hymn called Jerusalem, which is almost like the informal national anthem of England, and it’s played in all kinds of occasions, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece of music. And I was looking at the lyrics of it, and the lyrics mentioned charts of fire. And that hymn was played at the end of the movie in the memorial service, and then I made the connection, and I was so excited.
Lindsay: That’s cool.
David: So, I went to my wife, and I said, “I figured out why it’s called Chariots of Fire.” She says to me, “If you were so interested, you could have just Googled it,” which of course is right, because you could Google it, but that kind of discovery, I get a kick out of that, and it ties with travel, which I would say is my favorite thing to do. But the point is, I enjoy planning travel as much as I enjoy the travel, which most people hate.
David: I love it, because I look at it as a learning experience. You learn so much by planning, and so I get a kick out of that.
Lindsay: That’s a great way to look at it. I should think of it that way myself, and maybe I would enjoy the planning part a little bit more.
David: Well, if you’re planning for a lot of people, which is different-
Lindsay: That’s true.
David: … that’s a job. That’s a hassle of a job. I’m planning for myself.
Lindsay: Yes, true. Right. So, it gets to be more about your own journey of discovery-
Lindsay: … and less trying to please ninety-five.
David: I don’t try to please anybody. I try to please myself.
Lindsay: Yes, yes. Which is a little different. Yes, true. Yes.
Well, this was great, David. I really appreciate it.
Lindsay: Thank you. For all of our listeners, we’ll be back next week with another guest, and in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts and thank you so much.
A few years ago, I got asked, “What’s relationship marketing, and how do you start growing your practice?” Now, in today’s world, we’re all about building connections and client growth, so let’s dive into relationship marketing and how to make it work for you.
Relationship marketing is like using your superpowers to build a community, grow your practice, and create lasting connections that enhance your expertise. Think of it as a more sophisticated way of doing that trusty “word-of-mouth” reputation building. You know, doing excellent work and hoping your clients spread the good word to their colleagues and friends. That strategy is solid, but why not level it up to ensure you’re consistently generating new business?
Why should you, as a modern professional, care about relationship marketing?
Two big reasons: Firstly, it helps you spot trends and insights with your current clients to serve them even better and retain their loyalty. Secondly, it’s the secret sauce to winning over potential clients.
To kickstart your journey, start by honing your listening skills. There are tons of tools at your disposal, both social and otherwise. Assuming you’ve already identified your target audience, find out where they hang out and start tuning in. Here are some options (but not an exhaustive list):
Virtual and in-person conferences
Unbilled client visits
You don’t need to use every tool on the list to succeed. The key to strategic relationship marketing is understanding who your primary audience is and where they dwell. These are the places you want to be present, not only to interact but also to listen and learn what they’re passionate about, their concerns, trends, influential figures, and more.
Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to engage. I’m a fan of content marketing and curation, but you can adapt it to your style. For instance, you could nurture a community by writing a blog and sharing your posts online. Encourage discussions by posing questions to your audience. Perhaps you’d like to connect with key figures in your industry; in that case, start a podcast and invite them as guests, potentially turning online connections into offline relationships. Share valuable content from various sources, not just your own, and be sure to engage with those who respond, as well as other industry peers.
By strategically developing and refining your word-of-mouth reputation in today’s fast-paced world, you’ll excel at retaining your current clients and landing more work from them while also attracting new clients.
Sven Burchartz is a partner with Kalus Kenny Intelex, a progressive, commercially oriented firm, specializing in property, corporate and commercial, and dispute resolution in Australia and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, he and Lindsay discuss the collaborative method by which he brought his firm back to the office post-pandemic, how he feels AI will (and won’t) impact the legal industry, and why he still loves being a lawyer.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast. I am your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is a returning guest, Sven Burchartz, with Kalus Kenny Intelex in Melbourne, Australia. Sven, welcome back. It’s great to have you here. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your firm, and your practice?
Sven: Lindsay, great to be back. We’re a firm of fifty people in Melbourne, Australia. We’re fortunate enough to be the ILN firm for Australia, and I’ve been really happy with the relationships we’ve made with everyone around the world. We’ve managed to think, to visit, and retain lawyers in every major continent, which is terrific. It fits our client base, which is avowed with private clients who are doing deals in various jurisdictions as well as dealing with overseas inward work. So, our work ranges from property, property in the developer space, funding finance, structured finance, and the building and construction space across to the commercial practice, which has a very interesting international flavor. We’ve got a couple of clients based out of Europe that we effectively do their in-house teamwork for, on all of their investments in their specific industry, but do a normal M&A, buy and sell transaction agreements.
We also have a dedicated estates and trusts team to deal with our clients’ asset and estate management, which is growing, and has some terrific young lawyers in it. We’ve also got a family law team. Unfortunately, family law conflicts are a fact of life, so we do a lot of that work primarily on the property side of things. Kids are an inevitable part of that, but primarily we help with their structuring and the major transactions in that. And then we have our disputes team, which has a sub-team, which is our employment law team. But our disputes team is by far the largest in the firm, headcount wise. And unfortunately, again, where there’s more than one person, there’s always going to be a dispute that’s potentially there, so we handle that. So out of the fifty people, there are thirty lawyers. My role is I deal with the economic aspects of the practice as well as some of the people stuff, but we’ve got various other partners who focus on various other administrative sides.
But I’m fortunate in advertive commerce to have to do with the economic parts of the practice, which I’m happy to say are going well. We’ve been growing well over the last three or four years. As we said in the last podcast. We grew through the COVID lockdowns, notwithstanding that we were almost subject to a police state set of conditions imposed by our government here, but we managed to go through that. I will say there is a bit of post lockdown or post COVID PTSD around, still. People are very weary. So, we’re having to manage that very carefully and be very, very aware of people’s energy levels. But yes, that’s us for the moment.
Lindsay: Yes, speaking of that, I find that, too. And one of the things I’ve talked to people a lot about recently is this push and pull about working from home versus being in the office, and the difficulties that we find, especially with some of the younger lawyers and the ability to train younger lawyers, who, you really want them to be in the office because there is something missing when you’re not able to just drop by, and see how they’re managing their cases, and have those conversations that you might just bring them into the office to be there for a client conversation, those types of things. So how do you manage that when there is really this PTSD from dealing with COVID, but you want to try and bring back that pre-pandemic ability to be together and be in the office?
Sven: We had great success in terms of people coming back into the office. We are now back in the office. If you want to be full-time, you’re full-time, but everyone is in four days. And we didn’t have any major issues about having that happen. And one of the main drivers was to get the work socialization going, because we have a lot of younger lawyers, and they absolutely need to have that ability to drop by an office or sit around together and workshop a problem. And you had to do it whilst you were locked away. But it’s certainly far from, in my view, in our view, the preferred best approach to what is a collaborative service. You need to have people thinking together, and the quickest way to do that is to be able to talk in person. So, we managed the transition carefully, and talked to our staff, and said, “Look, this is what we want to see, but take it at your own time.”
So, we didn’t issue an edict and said, “Right, you’re back in, in four days and that’s it.” It started with two and said, “Let’s build it up.” And we used language, which is acceptable, and was understood, and said, “Look, we’d like to see you more in the office than less in the office.” So, they started to build the pendulum that way. People got comfortable. And then it perpetuated itself. People enjoyed the experience. And I remember my own experience was when I came back, I had to adjust. Even, and I thought, “Yep, no problem. It’s going to be great. I’ll be back in the office.” But my routines changed so far fundamentally again. And so, I know that I had almost, not an anxiety, but a pensiveness about being back in the flow of the office. So, I figured, “Given that I figure I’ve got a reasonable level of resilience, how much our people be feeling?”
So, we took it nice and easy, but ultimately people just didn’t filter in. We then worked alternate days with teams, so we had whole teams in, whole teams out. And our current practice is that there’ll be a team not in the office each day of the week so that we have mainly people in, but then people say, “Well, look, I want to come in.” So, it really is a case of, “Manage yourself.” But it took, to be honest, it took probably 12 months of a gentle transition.
We know that, and we saw other law firms and other professional service firms do what we thought to be crazy stuff, and just issue edicts, and probably treat them the way they did at the start of the pandemic, which said, “Right, we’re going to slash all your salaries, and we’re going to pull back to 60%.” And a lot of that arm-waving panic stations routine, which unsettled so many people, whereas we went the opposite way and said, “No one’s losing their job. If we need to put money in, we’ll put money in.” Thankfully, we never did. But you have to teach people and treat people with respect, and bring them along, and when they understand, and when you are open with them as to why you think this is a good idea, unless it’s a really bad idea, they recognize that it’s a good idea. So, we’ve done all right. It’s thankfully behind us now.
Lindsay: Yes, no, that offers a lot of comfort and that does help. So, what would you say then is your biggest challenge at the moment, and how are you working to deal with it?
Sven: Biggest challenge? Oh, look, I suppose it’s dealing with the lack of economic certainty that that’s been created in the US. I’m sure it’s the same as it is here. Your Fed has cranked interest rates through the roof. It’s caught a lot of people unawares. And same here, our Reserve Bank is your Fed. They don’t have much in their back pockets. So, what they tend to do is bludgeon the economy because they’ve got nothing else. And that is impacting the confidence of our clients, their industries, and I also think the confidence of our staff because they’re wondering what’s going on.
That said, we haven’t noticed any drop-off in work, and we certainly haven’t noticed any change in that type of work. So unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember the late ’80s, early ’90s recession, and every GFC, and other event that’s happened since. And it’s nowhere near those sorts of things. I think the economy has learned how to, and particularly governments and institutions have learned how to respond to these things without ripping them up. So, banks are being a bit more responsible, governments are being far more responsible, but it is quite a challenge for people to understand that two years ago everything was rosy, and money was cheap, and all of a sudden the breaks of being yanked on. So that’s pretty much the only challenge that we have. Otherwise, the firms move along very nicely. We’ve got a great team. Our clients are happy and healthy.
As I was saying earlier, we don’t see, and a lot of my work is dispute work, and when it gets really bad, the disputes work becomes quite defensive, whereas I haven’t seen that yet. That said, law is always the first to see the green shoots and the last to see the brown grass. So, we, as an industry, tend to lag conditions, but then see the early signs of improvement. So that’s pretty much it. Otherwise, we’re all happy, and healthy, and raring to go.
Lindsay: That’s great.
Sven: Again, it’s probably, as I said earlier, it’s, I think managing and understanding people’s energy levels, and being very responsive to the early signs of fatigue, making sure that the work is allocated properly, supervised properly, because the greatest challenge for a young lawyer is to get the supervising lawyer to actually check the work in a way that’s timely. Client pressures are up there, turnarounds fast. We’ve all learned to live with a scourge of email, and the fact that everything’s required immediately, and some deals don’t respect the clock, in fact, the big deals don’t respect clock, peoples’ lives. So that’s a little bit more of an awareness thing.
And to be honest, it’s probably one of the greatest positives out of the whole COVID experience is that we’ve had to and had to accept that we must be very responsive to how our people feel, and also support them and say, “Listen, you’re a bit stronger than that.” If somebody’s feeling a little bit down, you give them support and you let them understand how they can manage it. So, building resilience rather than letting the snowflake melt, say, “Okay, let’s just build something around you that supports you to understand that life’s not really that easy.” And yes, it’s unfortunately difficult sometimes not to fall into a paternalistic pattern, particularly with younger lawyers. So, you’ve got to be a little bit, “Okay, this is hard, but that’s part of becoming a more senior practitioner, so let’s work out how we do it.”
Lindsay: That’s true. Yes. I found that as I become older, too, you can very easily fall into that, that wanting to pat people on the head a little bit and take care of them. And it really, as you say, it is a fine line between doing that and taking care of people, but also helping them to grow up within the firm and moving towards the idea that, “Unfortunately, just because you do the right thing, good things aren’t necessarily going to happen to and for you, and you’re going to just have to sometimes buck up, and do the hard stuff that’s around you, and get through it.” And that’s just the way life is and works.
Sven: It is, indeed.
Lindsay: Yes. And as you said, you’ve been through the GFC and other financial crisis, and sometimes that’s just the way the market is. It’s going to have its ups and its downs, and you have to prepare for it, and move through it. And just because things are rosy this year doesn’t mean that’s going to be true next year, and that’s fine and normal.
Sven: Look, when we got locked down, one of the first things we said to our staff was, “Look, again, unfortunately the more senior people in the firm, it’s not their first rodeo. And so, we know how to deal with it, and we know how to batten down. And generally, it’s a two- or three-year cycle from the time that it gets terrible to the time that it stops being terrible. And you just have to make sure that you’re strong enough to get through it.” Yes, it’s an unfortunate effect of being older now.
Lindsay: Yes, it’s true. You do get more resilient, but sometimes you’re a little tired of being resilient, too.
Sven: Yes, true. That is true. Leadership takes energy.
Lindsay: Yes. But yes, you’ve got to have it. What would you say is the biggest area related to your practice or the practice of law that you’re curious about?
Sven: That I’m curious about or that the firm’s curious about?
Lindsay: No, that you’re curious about?
Sven: That’s a hard one. One of my clients does a lot of work in the cryptocurrency space. In fact, they transact. They transact the majority of their value shifts as between them and their customers between, using crypto. So, they don’t use traditional fee at all. And talking to them, they use crypto, particularly Bitcoin, as a currency. And understanding that is a challenge, because your traditional view of crypto is said to be an asset class and people speculate on it. Whereas this client in particular is trying to push their space, and it’s a big space, into saying, “Look, you must be able to use crypto to buy and sell things and to give value for services.” And they do it in a very transparent way. So, it’s not some sort of pre-regulated gray market. It’s all, they declare it, they pay the taxes, do everything they need to do.
But I think that’s an example of technology, and crypto not being a technology, but it’s based on a technology that does away with traditional fear. So, I find that fascinating. And I watched a podcast the other day where he was on a panel, and it was quite novel, even for the panelists to hear that he wants to turn it into money, effectively, money. Will you ever be able to buy a loaf of bread with a percentage of bitcoin? Yes, not soon, but the other transactions you can.
And then there’s the whole Chat GPT thing, which I find frankly hilarious. It is the funniest thing I’ve ever experienced. And people say, “It’s terribly frightening.” And it can be and certainly will be. AI is fascinating and also concerning because even the originators of AI are now worried about what it can do. It’s crazy. It’s like a scientist comes up with this great concept and then loses sleep about what might happen with it, like, “Seriously?” But ChatGPT had a lot of lawyers here running for the hills, and go, “Oh, it’s terrible. Life is over.” And all I see there, and I talk to our staff about it because it’s something that they’re interested in. And I say, “Look, ChatGPT does nothing more than aggregate and spew out information that it’s grabbed from somewhere and make it sound half plausible.”
And it’s funny, I saw, saw these reports of these lawyers in the US who put together a paper and quoted non-existent authorities. It was just the funniest thing. And I thought, “How are you going to talk your way of this, you idiots?” But I always come back to, “What do our clients want from us?” And as lawyers, they want judgment, they want experience, and they want guidance. And artificial intelligence will give you an outcome or a product, but it will not give you a considered answer.
And I said, “So we must not be uncomfortable. We can fully automate a lot of stuff, like forms, and other bits and bobs, aggregating stuff, that’s fine. But until human beings absolutely trust machines, and they never will. People come to us for our judgment. So that when you say to a client, ‘Look, I’ve looked at all your options. This is the best way to go.’ And that’s informed through life experience, mistakes. Judgment isn’t just the reformulation of raw data, it brings intuition, experience, and all that sort of stuff.”
So that is the thing that I probably find most curious. The crypto thing is just fascinating. I watch my client do it and say, “Hey, mate, you’re a real trailblazer, here.” But the whole AI and ChatGPT makes me laugh and then be concerned at the same time. But it’s certainly not going to make us irrelevant. In fact, more so, I think what will happen is in time, some aspects of legal services will be more automated and perhaps AI driven, but the important stuff which matters to people will never be a machine. Some people may go, “Look, I’ll go there, that’s fine.” And my view is, “Look, you’re on your own, then. And in fact, look, come back to me when it goes wrong, and I’ll help you fix it.”
Lindsay: Yes. For a very big fee.
Sven: Yes, exactly right. And I always say, “Whilst I’m not cheap, it’s actually cheap insurance, and I generally get more right than wrong.” So that’s my response. That’s a bit rambling, but there you go.
Lindsay: No, and I totally agree with you. I was talking about it earlier with somebody today, and I think it’s very interesting what you said, and I fully agree with you. I think it will automate the things that lawyers don’t need to be spending their time on, and it will elevate the things that lawyers are really important for, which is the advisory piece. The thing that I wonder about, and this is what I raised with somebody earlier today, is the training piece. Because as you say, what clients will come to lawyers for is that experience, but if the way you’re gaining that experience is through the things that are being automated by AI, how will we get the younger lawyers to the point where they’re gaining that experience? So that’s the piece I’m curious about, how are we going to get those younger lawyers to get the experience that you have already?
Sven: That’s the thing. I remember back when I was a young litigation lawyer, and the crap work was the debt collection, and it was the low-end stuff, and we had a couple of institutional clients, and we were collecting card debts, and all that sort of stuff. And it was not great work, wrong reflection, but it taught me all about court process, and dispute dynamics, and settlement. So, there is that issue about that the basic hack, early work, I don’t know, if it’s debt collection, or if it’s doing basic transactions for conveyancing, or straightforward leases, any of those very routine, repetitive types of jobs, they do teach you, because you know about the law.
So, I think what will have to happen is that our teaching methods and our teaching points will have to adapt, and we’ll have to say, “Look, okay, the machine’s going to do it up to this point. But at that point, a judgment’s got to be exercised.” And I think clients will want that. They’ll take an automation point, and they’ll say, “Okay, at this point I want a lawyer, I want a human being to exercise some judgment.” And I think it’ll just mean that we teach our younger lawyers differently if automation starts to become a great feature, which in time it will.
Lindsay: Yes, no, I agree. That makes sense. Switching gears a little bit, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Sven: Gee, I actually looked at this question, I thought, “Now, what can I answer here?” As far as the people that know me, and my circle, and my colleagues, but if I can answer it in the context of the ILN members, they won’t. Also, I have raced cars for 25 years.
Sven: Yes, a long time and lots of competitions, GT cars, I’ve raced Mustangs, but mainly my vice is Porsche race cars. And I’ve done that for a long, long time. And I also am a part owner of a race team. So, in the US you have NASCAR, and here we have Supercars, which is effectively a lot like NASCAR. So I’m a reasonably significant owner of a Supercar team here, which employ, which I think we’ve got 60, 70 people, four drivers, four cars. So, it’s a very big team. It’s called Tickford Racing.
And I got involved in that because I helped the then owners acquire it from Prodrive in the UK, and I sat on their advisory board. And then one day, one of the owners says to me, “Look, now, you’re good at this. You’ve got something to add. Would you like to become a part owner?” And I should have taken the question home to my wife, but I was a little bit fast and said, “Yeah, sure, that sounds like a great idea.” And then came home and said, “Cille, look, I’ve done this thing.” Anyway, it worked out well. It’s a very successful team. But she’s used to it because I also have a habit of buying cars and then telling her. But thankfully the cars that I buy tend to be good investments which I can drive around, but so perhaps that’s something the membership doesn’t know, that I race cars and I’ve got part ownership in a very big racing team.
Lindsay: That’s so fun. I love that. I’m going to have to tell my dad. He’s really going to love that too.
Sven: Yes, no, it’s great fun. And to be honest, it’s also, having done it for so long, and at one point I actually owned a race series, I ran it for Porsche back in the late 2000s.
Lindsay: Oh, cool.
Sven: Yes. Well, again, another bright idea with a man, mate of mine and I, probably a few too many beers in and said, “Hey, John, do you reckon we should do this with Porsche?” So, we rang them up and they agreed. So, for three years we ran that. But it’s actually, I do have a lot of contact within Motorsport. So, it actually was the genesis of our sports law practice, which is a very niche practice that I and the two other lawyers in the firm pursue. So, we do a lot in Motorsport, but we do a lot of sponsorship and talent management stuff. And just before this call, I was working on a deal where a client of ours is sponsoring an English Premier League team, and this is the fourth one that we’ve done. So, we get that sort of work about, but it’s also, it all came from Motorsport because Motorsport is sports, it’s got all the elements of talent, sponsorship, and all that sort of stuff. So, I do get a lot of work from being involved, which is nice.
Lindsay: That’s very cool. Very nice. Awesome. Who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Sven: In my early career, a fellow by the name of Michael Thornton. He’s passed away now, unfortunately. But he gave me my first big break in the law firm that I then became a partner of for 23 years. And what he taught me was to look for the things in other practitioners that you can learn from, and adapt, and make yours for your own style. And he was a very grown-up guy, and he recognized some of his partners as people who perhaps aren’t setting the same, shining examples. So, he would quite diplomatically say, “Look, you know what they’re doing? You might want to not do that.” But what he taught me most was when I was a young lawyer, gee, how old was I, 24, 25, was putting trust in capable people and good people. So, when I joined him, he was running a practice which involved a lot of trial work, a huge amount of trial work. We were acting for an insurer in relation to injury claims that were on the fraudulent end of the spectrum. So we were a specialist firm that deal with insurance fraud.
And here I was as a 25-year-old, and he said to me, “I’ve been doing these for ages. Here, have my file load in this.” And I thought, “That’s fantastic.” So, I immediately inherited sixty-five fraud cases, all of which were running. The client’s policy was never to settle. So, for three years we were doing this work, and I ran, I don’t know, two or three years, I ran sixty trials, sixty-five jury trials. And now, what that taught me and how he mentored, he was always there with the safety net if I was wobbling and falling over. And what I didn’t know is he was in constant contact with the claims managers, letting them know that he was around, but letting me go, and not make mistakes, but giving me the freedom to do the work.
And they were long, long days as a young lawyer, but they made me understand how to manage workloads, how to manage clients, how to manage courts, judges, opponents, witnesses. Back in the day when we didn’t have mobile phones, I used to walk around with a big bag of coins and call all my witnesses from a payphone in the court. It was crazy stuff. But it was wonderful because what it taught me is to give people space and latitude to develop as themselves, as their lawyers, trust them. And if they’re good, they will know what their limitations are. So, Michael was, I think, singularly the biggest influence in shaping the way that I practice law and work with my staff.
Lindsay: Wow, that’s really incredible. He sounds like a wonderful lawyer and a wonderful person.
Sven: Yes, he had the best laugh. Did you ever watch, what was it, there’s a cartoon character called Muttley, and-
Sven: … in the US. Yes, he sniggered like Muttley, this giggle, this absolutely childish giggle, and he found the weirdest shit funny. And sorry, I shouldn’t swear, I suppose, but-
Lindsay: That’s fine.
Sven: I’ve got a bit of an off the wall sense of humor, so I was always making him laugh, which was great.
Lindsay: That’s great.
Sven: Because he’s a wonderful man and I miss him.
Lindsay: I bet. I bet. He sounds wonderful. So along those lines, then, what is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned along your career?
Sven: Never forget humanity, the human part of your clients’ experiences. Doesn’t matter how hard-nosed, if it’s the big M&A deal, try and understand the people in the deal, and what’s motivating them, what they need, what they’re looking for, what their motivations are, and understanding that transactions and disputes involve people and emotions, and inevitably lawyers get tangled up in that. And therefore, you need to manage your own emotions. Even when you feel like being a cheer squad for your client, you shouldn’t be. You should be an advocate and an advisor. So, the thing that you have to bring to it is emotional intelligence, empathy, sometimes sympathy, but understanding everyone for what they want and recognizing that life’s not a battle. It’s actually about generating some decent outcomes, even in the most torrid piece of litigation.
Your job ethically, I’m no deep reader, but Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer. And I remember reading a book, probably at high school, studying it, but he said, “A lawyer’s primary ethical obligation is to settle disputes. It’s not to fight them.” And so, bringing that into the commercial space, it’s to get an outcome that works for everyone, but ultimately understanding that’s not PSYOPs, it’s understanding people and then saying, “Okay, how can I tailor what I do professionally and non-professionally?”
Lindsay: Yes, very true. Just wrapping up, then, what is something that you’re enjoying at the moment, not to do with work or anything on this podcast?
Sven: Oh, well, we’ve just finished a two-year project building a house down on the coast. And we’re in it, which is fun. We’re down here for three weeks with my wife, Cille, and the two boys. So just being here, after having not had the house, and then looking at my rolling five-year plan, and saying, “Okay.” Because five years ago I said, “Look, I’ve got this five-year plan that means that I’ll be doing less work.” “Yep, okay.” So, I’ve reset that, and I’ve started another five-year plan. But I’m enjoying it. It’s beautiful sea air. The kids love it. They’ve got their bicycles down here. And so, I enjoy coming back down and leaving the city behind, but still working, which is good.
Lindsay: Always working.
Sven: Yes. Look, to be honest, it’s part of my fabric. I think I’m not a person who defines themselves by what I do, certainly. And I don’t say, “I am a lawyer.” No, “I’m a person, I practice the law.” But yes, it’s never far away, particularly when you’re an owner of the business, you’ve got lots going on.
But I can say this in closing, I absolutely love being a lawyer. I’ve never regretted doing what I do and fixing things up, being it a deal or a dispute, I still love being a lawyer. Every client that brings me something I learn from, I’m curious, “How the hell did you get into that? And tell me about your business.” So, you learn so much about what actually happens in the world by understanding your clients, and what they do, and how they make money, or how they lose money. So, unfortunately, just not outside the law, but I still love being a lawyer.
Lindsay: I love that. That’s great. Well, thank you so much again for joining us. I really, excuse me, enjoyed our conversation. And thanks so much to all of our listeners. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And we’ll be back next week with our next guest. Thank you so much.
Sven: Thanks, Lindsay.