Many of us have experienced such a scenario: It’s a beautiful summer. I’m on holiday in Austria. Even before the holiday began, it had become clear that I would have to interrupt it for a meeting in Berlin. When my wife asked me whether this would be the only interruption, I was convinced that I wouldn’t be away for more than one day. It turned out differently. After my return from Berlin, I had to leave our holiday home for another two days. The following week, in which I’d anticipated no business travel, I ended up spending only half a day of it with my family. I had to cancel common (and long-planned) visits of friends, two beautiful (and of course also already paid for) concerts in Salzburg, and I was either travelling for business or on the phone that whole week.
My 13-year-old son Nicolas asked me whether this is normal for a lawyer, and if I’d recommend the profession to him.
My immediate response was, “Yes, it is normal” – but then it occurred to me that I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d want my son to have such a life.
I come from a family of lawyers. Both my grandfather and father were independent lawyers in Vienna.
During my earliest childhood, when other children dreamed of becoming firemen, dragon fighters, or even policemen, I wanted to become a lawyer. My family used to start the day with a common breakfast. After school, which ended for my siblings and me at 1:30 pm, we had lunch together. My father, who had his office in the very center of Vienna, came home for lunch almost every day. This cost him approximately two to three hours each day. Needless to say, we also had dinner together at 7:00 pm. At that time, this seemed absolutely normal to me. And, yes, I felt that being a lawyer was a family-friendly job.
Today, I’m a partner at Taylor Wessing, an international law firm, and I understand that my childhood was definitely not normal. Of course, there were also other families in similar situations, but it wasn’t standard. And it isn’t standard from a today’s point of view. Unfortunately, I cannot offer the same luxury to my kids that my father did. I’m happy when we have breakfast together. During the week, we never have lunch together and very seldom dinner, either.
Personally, I’m convinced that becoming a “real estate transactions” lawyer was a great decision for me. When drafting contracts, significant creativity is required. When fighting for clients, we need to be tough, convincing, and sometimes even good actors at the same time. It simply is great fun to help my clients. It often happens that I’m not only asked for professional advice but also asked on a very personal level to get involved in my clients’ private issues. To be honest, this honors me and allows me to feel that I am really helping my clients.
Nicolas recently told me that his classmate’s father is also a lawyer, but that he spends much more time with his family than I do. Well, it was quite difficult to prepare an answer to his statement. So I told him that just as my wife and I expect him to work harder in school than other pupils, my clients expect the same from me. Our clients simply have the right to expect “added value.” If we want to distinguish ourselves from our competitors – and there’s basically no difference whether competitors are classmates or other lawyers – we need to be better in certain ways. We need to have a higher grade of specialization, to be prepared to work harder, to interrupt or cancel our holidays if necessary, and we simply need to understand our clients.
Nicolas looked sceptically at me, and I could see that his brain was trying to process this information, but then he looked up and said, “Daddy, I want to become a lawyer as well.”
Yes, I hadn’t told him that there is still a lot of studying to come and that our profession’s future faces greater pressures now in terms of fees and discussions, and that even whether a lawyer can be substituted by a computer is rather unclear.
And I also hadn’t told him that in my professional life there were also times when I had asked myself whether this job was really the right one for me.
But seeing the belief in his eyes that joining our profession, with all its negative side effects, might be the right decision for him, made me feel even prouder of being a lawyer and, I hope, the father of a future lawyer.
And so yes, I can encourage my kids to become lawyers too.
By Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Prague
This Article was originally published in Issue 4.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.