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The Corner Office: The Least Favorite Thing

The Corner Office: The Least Favorite Thing

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In The Corner Office, we invite Senior and Managing Partners at law firms from across the region to share information about their careers, management styles, and strategies. For this issue, we asked them to describe their least favorite part of their jobs. 

Marian Dinu, Managing Partner, DLA Piper Romania

What I am about to say may come as a shock to associates, coming from a Managing Partner: What I like least in my job is time recording. Of course I preach to everyone that they should record their time daily, and for good reason; It is the only way to accurately capture what you do as a lawyer. And there are times when entering time is not too time-consuming or difficult: Those days when I spend eight hours or more negotiating a transaction. When it gets hard is on a normal day, when as Managing Partner I deal with countless issues, big or small, client-related, or admin/management, with the added benefit of frequent interruptions when I set out to do a task. Accurately capturing time for one of those days is ... well, a chore. 

Kinga Hetenyi, Managing Partner, Schoenherr Hungary

For me, the worst part of the Managing Partner job is when I have to deal with internal regulations and policies such as about money laundering and client identification policies, procedures for archiving, etc. These policies need to be set up once, and then revised and updated regularly. We have to make sure that we follow the legal rules and the bar association’s guidelines and still remain efficient. Even if I delegate significant parts of it, I still need to read and approve internal policies. This is the most boring and annoying part of the job for me. Furthermore, some of the rules and guidelines are unfortunately not very clear and it is sometimes difficult to decide how to implement them into our own internal policies.

 Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Czech Republic

I really do like my job as Managing Partner. But of course, like in all jobs, there is something that I really do not like, and that is completing submissions to international legal directories. Yes, I know, it is absolutely important. And yes, we always take part. But it simply makes me nervous when we have to do it again. Most of us lawyers are quite bad at marketing. We usually do not like to talk about ourselves. 

OK – there are some exceptions among us. But in principle, we lawyers are not salesmen. I consider this a definite disadvantage in our studies, particularly when you have studied in continental Europe. During my studies in Salzburg, I had to learn law – but not how to sell my knowledge. Now you can imagine how I react when our marketing manager sends me the submission for a legal directory. At first, I just put it aside. Then I get a first and friendly reminder. I get very creative (yes, you would not expect such creativeness from a lawyer) in finding reasons why I have not yet done it. Then I receive the second and “not-so-friendly-anymore” reminder, which I – yes, I have to admit this – usually ignore. Frankly, the last reminder is very direct and – yes, I have my submissions done by then. And yes, of course everything would be easier if I had my submissions prepared during the year whenever a transaction is completed. But it is the same logic as when getting Christmas presents for my wife. The closer Christmas comes, the more effective, creative and generous I get.

Ron Given, Co-Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss Poland

Letting people go is a very tough part of the job. It is never fun or easy, but some cases challenge you more than others. Clear issues with performance, interpersonal frictions, and/or financial results usually can’t be ignored for long. You are more or less compelled to get in there and do what needs to be done. I find most challenging dealing with young lawyers who have managed to accumulate all the right academic and social markers and survive the recruitment gauntlet but, when put in the context of a functioning, modern law office, demonstrate that they do not have the mental and social elasticity to meet the demands that clients put upon us these days. 

Sadly, the inability to “think like a lawyer” can rarely be fixed by training, the mere lapse of time, or, most assuredly, all the good intentions in the world. It’s nobody’s fault and the only thing you can really do wrong is to ignore it, hoping that the clean-up cup is passed to someone else. You need to do everything you can, in both onboarding and off boarding, to help people get into situations into which they fit and will be happy. And those situations exist for everyone. They just need to be found. Although you should generally not expect to receive much appreciation from those you walk to the door, howsoever gently, it does happen. 

From time to time I am together with lawyers I’ve had to let go in years gone by and we talk about the challenging time we went through together (often acknowledging that, like any divorce, such situations rarely bring out the best in those that depart), the good things that were waiting for them in subsequent positions, and that things have really turned out as they should for everyone. Such affirmations help give you the backbone to deal with the next difficult situation that inevitably awaits you.

Uros Ilic, Managing Partner, ODI Law Slovenia

Although becoming a Managing Partner was always one of my main goals, the function itself definitely presents a challenge. It takes a whole person and there is almost no room for personal life. You have to be a leader, a role model, a teacher, an innovator, an organizer and so much more at once and the person to whom the team will come for either advice or comfort. You always have to look at the big picture by having in mind what is best for the firm and the team. Even when you think you got it right and a task is completed, there is often some kind of surprise waiting around the next corner. 

Whether at home or on vacation or whatever I’m doing (with today’s technology there is actually no such thing as a real vacation), I’m always thinking of ODI. That never-ending to-do list and the inability to step away from it all at least for few days is something that is definitely the worst part of the firm Managing Partners’ job.

 Mykola Stetsenko, Managing Partner, Avellum

What I really don’t like about my job is chasing clients for outstanding bills. I completely accept that in a competitive environment you have to negotiate on price, and in Ukraine clients very often negotiate proposed fees heavily. However, once we have agreed on the price and the schedule of payments, I really expect that our invoices will be settled without any delay. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. While large foreign corporations often indicate from the start that the processing time for an invoice is about 30 days, some Ukrainian clients are quick to promise immediate payment of the invoice. In reality, I often end up chasing a client five or six times about an outstanding invoice with a delay of three to four months and getting all sorts of explanations and excuses. This is really frustrating and may even spoil an otherwise great client relationship. 

Vefa Resat Moral, Managing Partner, Moral Law Firm

Imagine the last working hours of a heavy business day. Following consecutive meetings, interactive production with several departments, and administrative daily works on accounts, your extension rings and an agitated voice is on the line like a heavy arm reaching to your ear from the phone. Whoever or whatever the reason of the intolerable result you, as the Managing Partner, are the nearest person or target of the client to reach up and criticize. Then you face the reality that despite your team’s high-quality work, client satisfaction appears just over the mountain. As a Managing Partner one of the hardest and less enjoyable part of my duty is cooling down hot-tempered clients on unsatisfactory results on legal matters. 

Luckily, I do not experience such cases frequently. We have to be wise and great psychologists when reevaluating matters and advising clients on those hard days. In case of a shared responsibility of the firm on the result – which has happened only very rarely in the last 20 years – we are always ready to wear the shirt of fire, never blaming any of our teammates, since the firm is our shelter and accounts are settled with our team behind our walls. In addition to the necessity of sustaining high quality work even on hard days, psychology plays a major role in the Managing Partner’s approach of cooling down the client and it is the magical key in order to continue working with them for many decades – a priceless reward that we are always proud of.

Tomas Rybar, Partner, Cechova & Partners

Most lawyers hate doing their timesheets. And it is equally disliked by me to chase my colleagues to do their timesheets on time and properly. And while we lawyers are often very concentrated on providing our work product to clients on time (and we know this is an important element they judge us on, sometime even irrationally ahead of quality), we are not nearly as good at meeting internal deadlines in non-client matters. And hence another unpopular duty of a Managing Partner.

 Biljana Joanidis, Partner, Joanidis Law & Patent Office

I have been practicing law in the same firm since graduating from law school. During that time, my practice has been devoted to almost everything that has been needed in the office: Coming to the office, running to be on time in court, going to trials, coming back to office, meetings with clients, and drafting legal actions.

I was content to let other to manage the firm while I did my best as a trial lawyer and to learn as much as I could from books and practice. As with many other firms, our firm was led very capably for many years by a senior lawyer – my father. About four years ago, he resigned from that role and left it to be led by me and my brother, which somehow caused fear in the way of unfamiliar things to carry on.

I love my work – simply adore it, have loved it from the beginning – but what bothers me the most is the waiting between trials, that sometimes can be a whole day, where I am useless and forced to carry my work home, as we deal with client problems not only at work but also at home. Simultaneously, my biggest bother is the expectations of the outcome of some cases, when they do not match the results in previous cases or in decisions reached by other institutions. Although these things bother me, it is challenging to move forward.

Irmantas Norkus, Managing Partner, Cobalt Lithuania

What I do not like in my job is the fact that I like every aspect of it.  Running a firm is like living several lives at one time. Running a firm in an emerging market is even more. More speed and complexity. You have 20 years to achieve a level of excellence similar to that of the leading firms from western markets that are 50-70 years of age.

Bringing partners together, building bridges between generations, pushing for more competition, winning deals and cases, expanding networks, hunting for talents, etc., is a constant effort – but fun too. I love this job; however, as a counsel, I am cautious not to miss important details in managing the firm. It is a constant feeling that “everything is OK” but there must be “something”. I do not like this feeling.

I would like to wear my Metallica T-shirt in the office, but I can’t. This I do not like either.

Erem Bener, Managing Partner, Bener Law Office

I am generally very displeased when it comes to dismissals. This is my weakest point. Even when we are not happy with somebody’s work, I do not take action immediately. I want to give them enough time to improve. But sometimes dismissal is inevitable.

Collection is also always an issue. This is a very sensitive subject because you need to collect your service fee but without stressing the client. This is really tiring. Generally, we obey client’s payment dates but sometimes we need to deal with some clients very sensitively.

The last point that comes to my mind is having the best price with suppliers. In Turkey sometimes FX rates fluctuate and increase in a very short time. If your payments (i.e. rent) are in FX, this gives you a hard time. You have to negotiate with your suppliers or deal with it. These negotiations are not easy. Because you do not want to ruin good relationships but you need to reduce your unexpected costs too.

Mark Harrison, Managing Partner, Harrison Solicitors

It is my personal obligation as Managing Partner at Harrisons to keep an aquarium at our office and look after the fish, including feeding them, cleaning the glass on the inside, and ensuring they have sufficient vegetation. On entering my office I first switch on the bright blue neon light and then the main light. The part I like the least is then looking at the surface to see if any fish have died. In general, smaller fish have a shorter lifespan than larger fish, and fish that lay eggs live longer than those that give birth to live young. 

As many people will know I name all my baby sharks after lawyers I have personally met or crossed paths with. I had thought of getting Red Bellied Piranhas but they don’t seem to get on well with each other, unlike sharks, no matter which lawyer I name them after.

Unfortunately, now and again (and completely by cause of nature – nothing else, I can assure you), a shark may die and I then give my undertaking, which as you know is a promise made by a solicitor upon which the fish is entitled to rely, binding me as a solicitor to flush the dead fish down the toilet, wrapped in the softest toilet paper I can find. An undertakers job, so to speak. That is the one regular part of my job I like the least, notwithstanding who that shark represented.

… yesterday I bought 10 more sharks!!!

Juri Raidla, Senior Partner, Ellex Raidla

To be honest, the part I like least in my job is writing invoices to my clients. You can only be the best lawyer when you dig deep into the client’s business to obtain an in-depth view allowing you to find the scenarios to solve the matter in question. That means that at the top of professional relations the lawyer will also have some personal relations with the representatives of the client.

The level of personal touch you get through this job makes the invoicing part most difficult for me. And even more, no matter the kind of relationship you have with the client, there is always a question before the invoicing: Have you really delivered full value to the client?

Most probably the belief that perfection is somewhere far away to be reached is what has throughout the years kept me and our firm going at its full speed. We always aim higher, even if the results today is at its best.

Zoltan Faludi, Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss, Hungary

The first thing that immediately comes to my mind is: Administration.

I would rather be in the front, meet clients, deal with legal issues, and find new and innovative solutions. Administration, however, usually consumes a lot of valuable time – recording time sheets, signing documents, filling in forms, etc. My enthusiasm burns on a smaller flame and I feel that I could spend this time on more valuable things.

A Managing Partner has to focus on so many different needs: The day-to day operation of the firm with a special focus on finance, risk, and client relationship management, and long-term strategic planning. It also involves paving the road for the individual development of younger colleagues – which provides lot of pleasure in this position. Next to all this, administration can seem like a waste of time. Of course, it is a very important and necessary part, essential to gaining a realistic understanding of how the firm is doing and where is it going, and determining how it will get there. However, if you have the right people around you, it is much easier to cope with all this and lead the firm to success.

The hardest task in my job is to let people go – luckily, we were only forced once during our firm’s ten years to reduce the team for financial reasons. But sometimes for professional reasons or for the good of the team I have to make these decisions.

Filips Klavins, Managing Partner, Ellex Klavins

I dislike conflict of interest situations, but they seem to arise almost every other day. Of course, it is of critical importance to be cognizant of the potential for conflicts, to have a system to check for them and to avoid them, and to keep your ethics and reputation spotless.  Nonetheless, when potential conflict situations arise it is painful to turn down opportunities for new work and new clients.  

Operating in a comparatively small market such as Latvia, we often are involved in a matter for one party when we are contacted by another party in the same matter.  If the party we cannot represent because of conflict is a potential new client, it is a disappointment to turn that client down but it is a clear and easy decision.

In our small market, obviously more of our existing clients deal with each other, so there is more chance for conflicts to appear. Where a waiver of conflicts is not possible, and where the conflict involves two of our existing clients, is when I dislike my job. Then there are also the discussions and explanations to the clients, which are ok if we have good relationships with them and can have an open and frank discussion, but also agonizing because of that same fact that we have good relationships with them and we are telling them “no.”

All partners deal with this issue, but my MP job further includes involvement in discussions where two clients are involved and each is the favourite client of a different one of my partners. Even more unpleasant ...

Panagiotis Drakopoulos, Managing Partner, Drakopoulos

Having to work out of four main offices in four different countries means that I am on a plane almost half of my time. Upon arriving in each different office, the very first matters that need my attention are issues arising between partners or associates in the firm, or client-related problems. Only once these matters have been tended to do things become smoother and work flows more comfortably, be it in terms of client meetings, partner discussions regarding the firm’s regional vision, or strategizing regarding the firm’s approach locally.

As I would rather enter each of our offices to find only a positive and creative atmosphere, it is that first issues-filled part of my trips, immediately following my arrival in each office, that I like the least. 

Peter Lakatos, Managing Partner, Lakatos Koves & Partners

One aspect of my job that I sometimes find increasingly challenging and trying is the inability to plan ahead. Law is a service industry and as such, it is imperative to serve clients at all times, including Friday nights and weekends – a new mandate can come in any time and I obviously cannot tell the client that I will deal with their issue later. As a result, due to the ever-changing dynamics of the workload, continuous scheduling and re-scheduling is a constant task of mine; I don’t have the privilege of enjoying a carefully-planned daily routine, as it is bound to be disrupted at one point or another. From my experience I would thus say that work-life balance is extremely difficult to master at the Partner and Managing Partner level of the job. After close to 30 years in the legal profession, I can honestly admit that the unpredictability of the volume and urgency of the work is something serious to cope with, and especially so in cases when I have an alternative view on the timing of a given mandate, which so often proves to be right.

Kostadin Sirleshtov, Managing Partner, CMS Bulgaria

There isn’t really a part of my job which I hate. This is probably why I devote some 3-4 thousand hours a year to it. Still, probably the part of my job which I like least is fighting complacency. You seldom see a young lawyer coming to an international law firm who is not willing to travel the world, put in what it takes for the client to be happy, and so on. As Associates (and even Partners) settle into the job, however, they very often become overtaken by the “nine to five” mentality. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe the workaholic approach is the right one and certainly don’t recommend it to young lawyers. But as I sometimes say, “targets are not for decoration” (this is a version of a joke I heard in Egypt where we were told that traffic lights are “for decoration”). 

So fighting complacency is probably the least favorable part of my job, most likely because I can’t really understand it and don’t need any special motivation to do my job. 

One of the ways of pushing for the extra mile is by being transparent. Lawyers are notoriously competitive, so that often works. Other structured models that work in practice are flexible progression models. Not everyone wants to be a Partner, plus you can’t really have a team of 11 Ronaldos playing on the field at the same time. So structuring your team around individual specifics works as well. Providing practical examples also help – Associates just have to imagine what they require from their own service providers and do the same for our clients. 

This Article was originally published in Issue 4.6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.