Pinar Aksakal Aydin is Legal Counsel at Zorlu Holding, one of the largest corporate groups in Turkey, where she leads Zorlu Energy, managing a team of 11 lawyers and reporting directly to the Zorlu Holding Head of Legal. Zorlu Group companies are active principally in the areas of textiles, electronics manufacturing, energy, and financial services. Aydin joined Zorlu Holding in January 2009 and – with the exception of a brief period at Avea Iletisim Hizmetleri in 2012 – and has been there since. Before joining Zorlu Holding she spent a year at the well-known Eryurekli & Fidan law office, and a little over a year at the Salih Zeki Bayten law office.
Why did you decide to work in-house, and why/how did you join Zorlu Holding?
P.A.: Actually it was not a deliberate decision, but I can say that it was a good coincidence. In 2008 I was working for a small law firm the primary activity area of which specialized in project finance deals. In that year most of the projects that the law firm was retained on were energy projects, and so I started working on these projects. Due to the financial crisis at the end of 2008 the partners of the law firm had to split their ways. Simultaneously I learnt that Zorlu Enerji was looking for a lawyer, and considering my energy projects background, I applied for this position.
How big is the legal team there, and what are your responsibilities on the team?
P.A.: For the entire Zorlu group of companies there is a legal team of 45 persons working under the management of the Chief Legal Officer. This team consists of lawyers, legal managers, secretaries, and paralegals. For the energy group of companies I manage a team of 11 persons. My primary responsibilities are providing legal services to all energy group companies, ensuring that the legal services are provided in a proper manner, determining the strategy of the department together with the Chief Legal Officer, maintaining relationships with other departments of the group companies, reviewing, negotiating the agreements which have strategic importance for group companies, preparing the budget of the department, and representing the companies before courts and public authorities.
Many partners at law firms in Turkey complain that the market is over-saturated, and as a result the fee competition is unreasonable and unsustainable. How much do the fees offered by a firm factor into your selection of external counsel?
P.A.: Since we are working on a determined budget, it is unreasonable to say that fees are not important for us. While selecting a law firm we pay attention to their fee proposal, but apart from that in our view the firm’s experience on the selected project or deal and its references have more importance than their proposal.
What changes would you like to see in the Turkish legal market?
P.A.: I believe that the entrance of international law firms into the Turkish legal market is a big step in terms of developing the market. In the future I would like to see more international law firms in the market so that the working environment becomes more professional.
What are the best tools in your experience in assessing the quality of service provided by law firms when picking who you will outsource work to (do you rely on rankings, referrals/recommendations, initial proposals, etc)?
P.A.: Of course we give importance to rankings and initial proposals, but the determinant factor for us is the referral/recommendation. If, in the past, a law firm worked for one of our group companies and this company was content of their work we may be inclined to select them.
Since you are operating in a regulated market, what best practices have you developed to stay apprised of legislative updates?
P.A.: Every morning before starting to work we check the websites of the official gazette, the Energy Market Regulatory Authority, and the Capital Markets Board. In this way we keep ourselves updated.
What upcoming legislation do you expect will impact your work in the next 12 months most?
P.A.: There will be a change in the natural gas legislation. We expect that this change will impact the natural gas market and in turn our work in a substantial way.
Throughout your time with the company, what was your favorite matter to work on at Zorlu Holding, and why?
P.A.: Zorlu has a fast moving environment. In Zorlu every day is a new challenge. That’s why I cannot make any distinction on my assignments, but I can easily say that working for Zorlu is a pleasure for me in itself.
What’s your favorite part of working at Zorlu Holding, and why?
P.A: The dynamic working environment is my favorite part of being at Zorlu. It keeps me alive and updated.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.1. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine.