Ceyda Akbal Schwimann is Head of the Turkey Practice at the Specht & Partner law firm in Austria. Schwimann, who is Turkish, began her career in White & Case’s Istanbul office, and she still spends significant amounts of time in Istanbul, where Specht & Partner has an office.
What is your background, and how did you get to Specht & Partners in Vienna?
C.A.S.: I studied law at Galatasaray University in Istanbul. Following my traineeship in Istanbul, I received the Jean Monet Scholarship and pursued an LL.M. at the University of Cambridge. During my studies, I focused mainly on international law. After my LL.M. studies, I started work at White & Case in Istanbul. In 2008, I decided to look for job opportunities in Austria for private reasons. Although I had a few other job offers, I decided on Specht & Partner for various reasons – among others, the firm’s entrepreneurial approach and its plans to expand its practice to CEE, Russia, and other former Soviet Union countries.
Were you hoping to work abroad at some point, or was this an unexpected development?
C.A.S.: This was an unexpected development. When I was back in Turkey after my LL.M. studies in England, I was determined to pursue my career in Turkey, where I am qualified to practice. Moving abroad was no option until I met my future husband – which is why the decision to come together took me quite a while.
There aren’t many Turkish lawyers in Austria – though there’s a fair amount of Turkey-related work in the country. Do you feel this gives you an advantage?
C.A.S.: As far as I know, I am currently the only Turkish-qualified lawyer in Austria. There are some Turkish-speaking Austrian lawyers but this does not bring the same type of expertise. The advantage of coming from Turkey is the network of co-workers, the contacts with the business partners and legal community in Turkey, and experience with the Turkish legal system. Furthermore, although practicing in Turkey from Austria is very challenging, I feel the trust of clients in having an attorney on board who understands their concerns, needs, and approach, and thus can offer tailor-made solutions compliant with the Turkish system. As part of both Turkish and Austrian legal systems I am seen as a trusted person both by our clients and their counter-parties. This brings an advantage especially when we deal with crisis situations.
There are obviously many differences between the Turkish and Austrian legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or unique challenges involved with the practice of law in Vienna stand out the most?
C.A.S.: The biggest challenge is the level of involvement of an Austrian client in the legal work, even sometimes in the preparation of briefs for Turkish courts. It takes a while to gain the full trust of an Austrian client. Until then clients tend to comment on every detail of the legal work, compare the Turkish system with different – mostly Austrian – legal systems, and propose solutions which do not always fit with the Turkish system. Such comments are mostly helpful to come up with creative solutions, but sometimes not. After trust is established the relationship is robust. It is easier and, mostly, pleasant to work together.
Has adapting to those challenges been difficult?
C.A.S.: Not really. Already in Turkey I worked mainly with foreign clients, among others, Austrians.
Other than Austria and Turkey, which CEE country do you enjoy the most, and why?
C.A.S.: I enjoy the experience with CEE countries in proximity to Austria because of their similarity to Austria; likewise, I encountered interesting and unique situations in more remote countries such as Azerbaijan, if it is considered as part of CEE. The combination of Turkish and Russian influence makes Azerbaijan very interesting and I enjoy Azeri language for its similarity to Turkish.
What one place in Vienna – a restaurant or a park or a tourist attraction, or anything, really – do you enjoy the most?
C.A.S.: I enjoy hanging out and playing with my little daughter in Liechtenstein Park in the 9th district of Vienna. It is a lovely park with lots of playing possibilities for children.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.4. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.