CEELMDirect Profile Pick: A series of interviews with partners and firms with Premium profiles on the CEELMDirect legal directory. Today’s interview: Hugh Owen, Head of Legal at PwC CEE.
CEELMDirect: Hi Hugh, and thanks for speaking with us. Let's start at the beginning. What led you to the law in the first place?
Owen: It was the question: Arts or Sciences? At a certain point in my schooling, I had to make some choices about what I wanted to study. I was actually much better at maths and science, but I really struggled with the fact that there were right and wrong answers. What I liked about literature and history was the chance to express myself – that it was possible to have your own interpretations. Perhaps to a certain extent, I didn't like being wrong, and I relished the chance to build different and sustainable narratives. More simply, my father said that I was terribly argumentative and that a career in law beckoned. I didn't disagree with him.
CEELMDirect: Once you got to law school, what was your favorite course and professor?
Owen: Well, funnily enough, I didn't exactly excel at contract law at university, which is a little ironic (and a pity as we were taught by the legendary Tony Guest). I went to King’s College London, and I have to say that the quality of teaching there was outstanding. We had amazing lecturers like Professor Ashworth for Criminal Law and David Hayton on Trusts. I particularly enjoyed Criminology and Jurisprudence – I think I enjoyed them because of their philosophical aspects. I was fascinated by the idea of the social contract, how societies work, and what holds them together. In the end, though, I gravitated towards Tax. I studied with the much-loved and late Jeff Price and Adrian Shipwright, and I ended up helping them write a couple of books on Tax law. I enjoyed Tax because Jeff breathed life and fun into what could otherwise have been a rather dry topic, and he taught it brilliantly. I was quite diligent and eventually ended up working in Tax at Allen & Overy for a couple of years. But I didn't learn my childhood lesson and ended up leaving Tax because I felt that it was too much "right or wrong," and I had no room to express myself. I had forgotten that I didn't really like that aspect.
CEELMDirect: What’s your favorite book or movie about the law?
Owen: The Life of Brian.
CEELMDirect: Turning serious, for a moment. You joined PwC in September of 2021. What’s your vision for PwC Legal? What role do you think it can play in the region?
Owen: I want PwC Legal in CEE to become "more than a law firm." PwC Legal has rebranded to Legal Business Solutions, but it's not just a brand thing – it's a redefinition of what legal services can be with an organization like PwC. I don't really want to just show up and say, "OK, we need to hire more lawyers in real estate, competition, M&A, etc." Yes, we do need to hire more lawyers across the whole of CEE, but I don't want to do that just to chase the tails of big, traditional law firms. PwC has, in CEE, hundreds of people who are at the top of their game in advisory, deals, tax, audit, and a myriad of other services. If PwC lawyers can come together effectively with all these colleagues, we have the chance to present a very attractive, unique, and superior service to our clients. We talk about solving our clients' problems, and I think that the low-hanging fruit is right there – for PwC lawyers to be part of a more permanent, long-term team of advisors solving clients' problems. And we have the capability and the head start to blend technological aspects into legal business solutions too. The candidates that are approaching us now are telling us that these aspects set us apart from traditional law firm competition and can be an attractive proposition for them. I have painted this all very poetically, and I know that, at the moment, the mechanics of this are far more prosaic, but I am confident that we are now moving forward with a clearer sense of where we want to be in only a few years' time.
CEELMDirect: Getting back to your personal experience: What firm social event or retreat have you personally enjoyed most over the years, and why?
Owen: There are several, if I may. The first is an event in Spain, many years ago, where we more or less went out into the desert and reflected very deeply indeed on who we were, what made us tick, and how we could rebuild ourselves into an ambitious, driven, successful practice. Although I got almost all of the key conclusions profoundly and iconoclastically wrong, it still worked, even for me.
The second is a training event in Amsterdam, run by Caroline Webb, called Strategic Conversations, where once again we reflected on what our clients really thought of us (they were very kind indeed, by the way) and how we should be more confident in ourselves; how the people around us value our opinions in a more holistic sense, not just what we think and say as lawyers. I think that it was the first step in understanding what it took to become a boardroom advisor. I also learned a number of very deep things about myself that determined the perhaps less obvious path that I took in my career in the last 10-15 years.
The third is my first partner event in Dubai (again many years ago), a fairly razzmatazz event, where I was hit by the feeling: "Wow, I am part of something really quite outstanding here." Always a worry that somehow I didn't deserve it or belong there, but I did cherish the bright-eyed moment for a while.
The fourth and final is an offsite to which I was invited by A&O Poland even after I had already left A&O. It was such a deeply kind and personal gesture, one that really did make me feel that, after all, perhaps I did belong a little more to that family than I had thought I did.
I have only been with PwC a short while, and much of that emerging from a pandemic, but I am looking forward to, I am sure, many wonderful events yet to come!
CEELMDirect: Thanks so much, Hugh, and best of luck at PwC Legal!