With the Act Legal alliance announcing an integrated brand (reported by CEE Legal Matters on March 18, 2021), we spoke with Martin Randa, Managing Partner, Act Legal Czech Republic, Marek Wojnar, Managing Partner, Act Legal Poland, Stefan Botezatu, Managing Partner, Act Legal Romania, and Roman Hager, Partner, Act Legal Austria, to learn more about what the integration of the brand means for the alliance and what its plans are for the future.
CEELM: When we spoke with Sven Tischendorf of Act Legal in 2018, he described the alliance's as aspiring to be "counted among the top commercial law firms in Europe and to offer the performance profile of a major international law firm while, at the same time, benefiting from the efficient structures of a boutique." How has the alliance lived up to that aspiration and how has it furthered in its mission over the last two years?
Martin: Over our four years of presence on the European market, the alliance has shown that its strategy is right and works well. The perfect cooperation of local law firms within Act Legal, especially joint business development efforts, helps us acquire new clients, including large international companies, for which cross-border trade is important. We strive to make communication within the group as smooth and efficient as possible and implement adequate IT tools for these purposes. As a result, we can promptly respond to our clients’ needs and expectations – as quickly as if we were sitting in the same building.
Our existing clients have already had the opportunity to see that we are able to provide the highest quality of legal services both domestically and outside the local market, which they greatly appreciate, and retain us to work on cases that they would otherwise solve with the help of large international law firms. Independent management of local firms has also proved very successful, especially in terms of their financial independence, thanks to which we are able to present clients with more cost-effective solutions than centrally managed international firms.
We handle countless cross-border projects and transactions for corporations and private equity companies. With Act Legal, we are a well-rehearsed international team that ensures quick and smooth processes by working hand-in-hand; this has been very well received by our clients.
It is worth mentioning that Act Legal has also turned out to be attractive for potential business partners. This is evidenced by the fact that three major European firms – from Spain, Italy, and Romania – joined us within the past two years. Other firms in continental European countries are in negotiations with us as well.
CEELM: In 2018, Tischendorf talked about a drive to create a "strong (joint) brand." The alliance took a critical step recently towards this. What was it and what did that process look like?
Marek: The brand consolidation indeed marked a critical stage in the alliance’s integration. It was just a natural step in the long process that we have been going through since the idea of forming the alliance first emerged. We are now much more unified from a visual perspective, with the word “act” present in the logo of each firm, a consistent modern visual style, and a new shared website, available in the language of each of the jurisdictions, as well as English.
Nevertheless, the most strategic process has been happening at an entirely different level. Over the past few years, we have put a tremendous amount of effort into developing shared standards for the legal services we provide, by working together on multiple cross-border projects. Our goal is to make sure our clients feel that the services we offer come from a single organized structure that ensures consistent quality across jurisdictions.
CEELM: What were the most difficult steps in unifying the brand and how was that hurdle circumvented in the end?
Stefan: It will come as no surprise that aligning 13 offices, across 10 different countries, was quite a bit of a challenge. We even had diverging views on a few matters and long evening calls on every detail – as lawyers pay attention to details. There was a constructive debate and exchange of ideas on all aspects of the brand unification process. In the beginning, we were so focused on trying to convey all our preferences under a single brand that we actually missed what makes us distinctly different: local intelligence combined with international expertise. At the end of the day, with that in mind, we were ready to “act” and the details remained what they are – just details which however made the end result better.
An aspect that did impact the whole process (actually, what hasn’t it impacted?) was the pandemic. Our last physical alliance meeting took place in February 2020 and I remember how productive it felt to have all of us in the same room. Then, everything switched to online and we quickly adapted in order to keep fostering those much-needed brainstorming sessions, which were vital to further develop the integration. However, the initial shortcomings of the virtual meetings were overcome and turned into valuable know-how in terms of digital solutions. Eventually, productivity was at its best, even if online.
CEELM: Surely, such an alignment is not in name alone. What are some of the elements implemented to sync-up the alliance members beyond what is readily visible and why did you choose to focus on those in particular?
Roman: Ongoing knowledge transfer and exchange of experience are the be-all and end-all. For example, we can take proven solutions or products from one country and adapt them to other countries. We can ask colleagues for advice in specific legal situations, prepare our Practitioner Guides for clients, or offer young associates the opportunity to gain international professional experience during their training. With our Act Legal lawyers exchange program, we offer, especially to younger lawyers, the opportunity to work for a certain period of time in one of our offices as a "Visiting Lawyer." Not only do they gain insight into a foreign legal system, but they also get to know the local mentality, see new working methods, and develop a network of contacts.
We see ourselves as a transnational team, each with its own professionals and experts within various areas of law. But it is only together that we can fully explore our potential, with clients’ best interests in mind.
CEELM: As already mentioned, one of the unique selling propositions of the alliance was maintaining the efficient structures of a local law firm in each jurisdiction. How do you reinforce this message to the market – and to your clients – while unifying the brand?
Roman: I like to say to my clients: "400 lawyers are just a phone call away from you because they are right behind me – right behind Act Legal." That sums it up nicely. We keep all the advantages we bring as a local law firm, while also gaining those of an alliance.
Marek: For me, it is always a matter of pointing to our roots. We set out to create the alliance after looking at the large international law firms in which many of us gained our professional experience, and having effectively competed with them for years. It is already clear to our clients that we set out on a mission to establish an effective structure without unnecessary bureaucracy affecting client relationships. Our clients appreciate that there is no headquarters at Act Legal abroad, with all decisions about clients being made at the local level, and the choices of cross-border teams being determined on a case-by-case basis by leading lawyers.
We are using this brand consolidation to showcase how we’ve been bringing the alliance closer, which will create obvious advantages and added value for them. It represents a clear message that we are well-prepared and equipped to provide integrated cross-border services of consistent top-notch quality, regardless of the jurisdiction.
CEELM: What can we expect from the alliance next? Is there an additional expansion planned?
Stefan: We are forward thinkers, meaning that we continuously look for new partners to match and share our values to the benefit of clients. We are currently prospecting three European countries – France, Belgium, and Portugal – as well as looking into establishing close cooperation with leading US-based law firms.
Moreover, our German office is one of the very few European law firms to be registered with the Chongqing Judicial Bureau as “foreign counsel” – in its case, for the ZHH | Zhonghao Law Firm, one of the leading commercial law firms in China. This means that we can guarantee our European clients the same quality of legal services and business approach in China as at home; also, due to the high volume of business which we at Act Legal refer to our partner law firm in China every year, our clients are always considered preferred clients, and accordingly receive first-class advice on attractive terms.
Martin: Beyond that, our shared activities are not only directed outwards. We are also solidifying the existing alliance. For example, we keep developing new technological tools to provide our clients with even more effective services. We have also implemented a joint marketing strategy to increase the brand awareness of Act Legal, as an alliance and all it has to offer. Simply put, we will continue to prove to the market that we are ready to “act” for our clients!