It’s not easy to get to the top of a profession. Among lawyer in particular, there is fierce competition, great pressure, slim margins of error, and a number of people waiting to capitalize on mistakes. Making it to the top, and staying there, is a tightrope that must be walked over and over. And yet, the Hanslik family has not one but two such high achievers, in two different countries, as Austrian brothers Erwin and Guenther Hanslik have senior positions at offices of two of the most respected and successful international law firms in Europe.
Their success is indisputable. Erwin is Managing Partner of Taylor Wessing Prague, where he heads the office’s Real Estate & Infrastructure, Environment, Public & Regulatory, Energy, and Hotel & Leisure practice groups. At CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz in Vienna, younger brother Guenther runs the firm’s Banking & Finance practice, is Head of the Transaction Finance team, is Head of the HR committee, and – with several colleagues – oversees the firm’s 20-plus-person Transaction group. Both Hansliks have led multiple significant deals (See Box on page 33), and both have received significant awards and commendations from international ranking services, publications, and peers.
And they have done it with a blend of friendliness and charisma that stands out in a demanding and stressful profession, where arrogance and self-importance are all-too common. Both Hansliks have developed a well-deserved reputation for impressing their clients, helping their colleagues, and encouraging the young lawyers working under their guidance, all with style.
Their roads to success started, unsurprisingly, at home in Vienna.
Erwin’s Path to Prague
Having both a lawyer father and a lawyer grandfather made a strong impression on the young Hanslik brothers growing up in suburban Vienna. “When we were kids we saw the legal profession as a home for us,” says Erwin Hanslik, now Managing Partner at Taylor Wessing in Prague. He laughs. “Other kids wanted to be astronauts or firefighters – we wanted to work as lawyers.”
Erwin found the outlines of his father’s job interesting – having an office in the city center especially – and he decided he wanted to follow in his footsteps. “Our father never pushed any of us to study law,” he says. “It was our choice, maybe part of a child’s dream to ‘take over from Dad’ one day, even though that specific thing never happened.”
His first experiences with the law were less than wholly rewarding. “When I started studying law I discovered that it was, in fact, a totally boring subject,” says Erwin. Having to learn “large quantities of dry matter” didn’t really inspire him, he says, and the experience he gained after accepting the invitation to work in his father’s office to get some hands-on experience didn’t help either. “After that one month in my father’s office I was sure of one thing – I would never become a lawyer!”
Thus, he said, he considered various options, and one in particular he found quite tempting. “During my studies, I had the chance to work with a PR agency in Germany – spent some time there and some time in Paris – and I thought it was amazing,” he remembers. “Having the opportunity to work in such a broad area with such open-minded people” was, he says, hard to resist. “The only catch was that I had to finish my studies before starting to work – they only hired people with a degree – any degree.” He laughs. “This led to me finishing law … but I never went back to PR.”
Eventually, Erwin chose to study at “a smaller, more intimate place” so he went to Salzburg and finished his studies there. While in Salzburg, in 1994, he was offered a three-month internship in Prague’s Balcar Polansky law firm. “At this point, I’m thinking ‘I love Prague, it’s a wonderful city, why not give it a go?’ so I accepted,” he recalls, “regardless of the fact that I still didn’t want to become a lawyer.” In Prague he discovered that his ability to speak both German and English “gave clients from these countries confidence, being able to speak to someone at the firm who knew their language.”
Ultimately, although he was asked to stay, Erwin decided to go back to Salzburg to finish his doctoral studies. He returned the following year, in 1995, planning to stay only a year. “The rest is history,” he says. “I stayed in Prague, started learning the language so I could pass the bar exam (which I did in 2000), and I got a job as an attorney at law with ENWC soon after.” He became a Partner with ENWC in 2007 and later, when ENWC merged with Taylor Wessing in 2012, he became Managing Partner.
He never lost his enthusiasm for PR, however, and he admit that he considers it a “second career, at heart.” He tries to keep a hand in, even in his current position. “I do like to divide my time now, at the office, devoting enough attention to both BD and PR, being involved in those operations as well – it’s exciting and it speaks to my inner PR flame.”
Guenther’s Voyage to Vienna
Guenther Hanslik recalls, as a child, being particularly attracted to the freedom in the way his grandfather and father worked. “Looking at the two of them, they had no bosses – just clients that they had to make happy,” he laughs. “They were their own bosses and this seemed very appealing to me.”
Still, like his brother, he was not immediately convinced that his future lay in the law. “I started studying both law and business/economics,” says Guenther. “Giving them both a try seemed reasonable at the time. However, I chose law for two reasons: I was fascinated with both the history and philosophy of it, especially with first-year studies of Roman law.” He laughs, noting the second, less romantic, explanation. “Accounting was a bit boring, so I stuck with law.”
While his brother headed 200 miles to the north, Guenther headed west – far, far west. “After law school, I had the opportunity to spend a year working with Jones Day in Pittsburgh,” he says. “This gave me a completely different perspective on the job – this was a large office, whereas both our father and grandfather were solo practitioners.” He found himself drawn to the communal environment. “Even though the Pittsburgh office was not especially large, it was big by Austrian standards. Still, I felt like part of a group; we all knew each other and it was this team effort that I liked best.”
When he returned to Vienna in 1998, Guenther joined Sattler & Schanda, a much smaller firm. “We had a young family at the time, my son was just born, and I didn’t want to start in a large firm right away,” he recalls. However, after a few years, he says, he “missed the international pull,” and, when approached by CMS in 2001, he decided to give it a go for “a few years.” Eighteen years later, he’s still there.
Though that permanence wasn’t inevitable, Guenther says. He recalls that, despite his many years at CMS, there was a time he thought of making a change. “Just before I became an equity partner,” he says, “I considered moving back to a small firm and cutting back on the workload, but then they invited me to become an equity partner in 2006.” He laughs, describing his choice as an easy one: “That’s not the kind of offer you turn down.”
And he says he has enjoyed the relationships he has had the good fortune to develop with clients over the years. “I like making clients happy, essentially,” he says. “Working as a transactional banking lawyer I’ve had fewer clients than I might have had in other practices, but we formed more lasting relationships.” He adds that “it’s great to see people develop within client companies, to kind of be with them on their path.”
He points with pride to the relationships he’s built with his colleagues as well. “Here at CMS, you really feel that we are all pulling on the same string, all working together – which is why it is, also, a fun job and why I feel so fulfilled here.”
Taylor Wessing Partner Ivana Menhartova has a unique perspective on the dual Hansliks, as she used to work with Guenther as a member of CMS’s Banking & Finance team before moving to Taylor Wessing and teaming up with Erwin. Menhartova emphasizes the politeness, humor, and professionalism the brothers exhibit to both colleagues and clients. “They are both so very pleasant and enjoyable to work with,” she says. “They are very precise and exact in their work but at the same time quite considerate towards their team members and employees.” She thinks this may be “simply in the genes for them, given their extensive family background in law.” Indeed, she suggests that it may be that history “that makes them so well-adjusted to working with people, and to applying such care to maintaining good relations with people – clients and employees alike.” Ultimately, she says, both Hansliks are “very down to earth and have a lot of respect for the work itself.”
Brotherly Rivalry or Respectful Professionalism?
Looking back at their divergent paths to similar destinations, the two brothers report pride in each other’s success – a pride that is, fortunately, not threatened by any direct competition. “We were always very close, born just two years apart,” Guenther says. “There may have been some kind of a rivalry when I left abroad and Erwin stayed home, maybe, but this was never a thing. Later on, with Erwin studying in Salzburg and moving to Prague – there was no room for us to compete, which is great.”
Erwin agrees. “Privately we meet a few times a year, outside of work, but seeing as how we work for different markets and in different practices – we rarely meet professionally,” Erwin says. “We never went up against one another, on the battlefield of law – I work in Real Estate and Guenther works in Banking & Finance.” He adds that he can “hardly imagine” going against Guenther for a client mandate. “It would be quite a strange thing, to have your brother as an adversary.”
That doesn’t mean their professional paths never cross, of course. “Sometimes funny things happen,” Guenther laughs. “It happens every now and then that a client will call up either me or Erwin, only to realize halfway into the conversation that he called up the wrong Hanslik.” And he recalls happily the time an opposing counsel “typed up an angry email during a tense round of talks we had during a business deal in Germany – he put his client in the cc, made all sorts of bold statements and claims – and then sent the email to Erwin instead of me.”
All in the Family
While “peas in a pod” is perhaps not completely accurate, both brothers agree they are more similar than different. When Erwin is asked to identify some differences, he calls it “a tricky question.” After putting the question to members of his family, he reports that “my mother said that she is not aware of any difference. Guenther´s wife Nicole said that I am older and taller, but that Guenther runs faster (which is correct). My brother Florian answered that when we smoke (which happens very rarely), I smoke cigars and Guenther cigarettes, [and] that I like whiskey and Guenther beer (which I actually like as well).” Ultimately, he concedes, “we are both family-oriented and even share the same hobby of running (we even took part in a couple of marathons together).”
For his part, Guenther suggests of his elder brother that “maybe he is a bit more classic in his leadership style,” laughing that Erwin once told him that he “had discussions with male colleagues about their shaving style – where I would never dare to give my opinion.” In addition, he says, Erwin “also thinks that I and my wife have a more anti-authoritarian approach than he does, which he is skeptical of us about.” He describes this, smiling, as “a classic first-son approach by him, who was used to things going his way.”
The Hanslik family relationship with the law hasn’t stopped with Guenther and Erwin, either. Their younger brother Florian, who also holds an LL.M. degree, is a tax advisor in Zurich, and their sister Susanne, the youngest in the family, is married to a lawyer. Guenther’s two sons are both studying law as well.
But the more relaxed style of the past, which allowed for more family time, is long gone. Erwin remembers being able to spend a lot of time with his father, Erhard – something which is often difficult these days, where successful commercial lawyers are forced to spend long hours in the office. “We were happy that our dad was there for breakfast every day, he drove us to school, and he was home for lunch.” he says. “These days it’s a good day if I can share breakfast with my kids and make it home in time for dinner – the job has changed.”
Perhaps as a result, he reports, “we don’t really talk shop during large family lunches. This would just bore everybody, even though we are such a law-oriented group.” And Guenther agrees that “with all those folks around one table when the entire family is there – law is rarely a topic. We tend to keep shop talk for private moments, just to sort of exchange how we feel about work at that time.” Still, those private conversations can be useful. “Sometimes, just knowing that another large firm is facing similar hiccups makes your life a little bit less tense.”
The two brothers seem to approach most things that way. With a smile, a relaxed professionalism, and an appreciation for their families and friends, as well as an obvious affection for one another. As a model, you could do much worse.