How do law firms in Austria promote themselves to current and prospective employees? A series of conversations with several leading firms revealed more than expected.
The American humorist Will Rogers once wrote that “a difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.” It also makes law firm management, and the varying law firm cultures and working environments that firms promote both internally and to the outside world.
We recently spoke with partners at four leading law firms in Austria – Dorda, Knoetzl, CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz, and Schoenherr – to learn about the differing benefits and workplace amenities their firms provide for their employees. And in addition to the benefits themselves, what these firm representatives chose to emphasize revealed a great deal about the ways the firms promote themselves to the market, and the way they see themselves and their colleagues.
Dorda: Commitment to Professional Development
Dorda Partner Christoph Brogyanyi is effusive, enthusiastic, and confident about the benefits Dorda offers its employees, and he quickly turns the conversation to the developmental opportunities the firm provides young lawyers joining it out of law school. First and foremost, Brogyanyi rejects the misperception he says many fresh Austrian graduates have that working at a bigger law firm means being forced to specialize immediately, potentially damaging their ability to pass the wide-ranging bar exam. At least at Dorda, Brogyanyi says, young lawyers work across several practice areas and learn about a broad cross-section of law firm work. “We have to fight the prejudice that you will have to specialize immediately,” he said. “And we tell them this, and we have to promote this as well. What they want is in-depth education, but at the same time not to be railroaded into one direction and being totally silo’d. We have to emphasize that, because you sometimes hear rumors that ‘24-7 I only do M&A deals,’ or ‘I only do financing and stuff,’ and this is something that may scare off students that haven’t really decided which direction they want to go.”
Brogyanyi insists that Dorda is known for its commitment to continuing education and professional development. “We focus on education a lot,” he says. “I think we are perceived on the market as a firm that does that and focuses on that. And therefore, a whole bunch of benefits we offer our associates focus on professional development.” As an example, he points to the Dorda Academy, which he describes as “a series of short seminars in spring and autumn every two to three weeks where partners and other experts speak about certain areas of law to give practical expertise to new lawyers who have finished university but who have a primarily theoretical experience and to provide information about certain areas of law that they may not have learned about in university.”
That’s not the only kind of ongoing education Dorda provides, Brogyanyi says, noting that “lawyering is not only being good at law but also how to deal with clients, how to present yourself, rhetorical skills, and how to negotiate, [so] soft-skill trainings are something we also offer on a regular basis.”
And Dorda’s commitment to professional development includes significant practical experience as well, Brogyanyi reports, including allowing “even young associates to get client contact, go to court, etc.” He says, “it’s my impression that there are some firms out there that would not let a second year or first year associate be in contact with a client immediately, or the court, or whatever authority you have to work with.” With Dorda, he says, “you can go with us to the meetings, you participate in telephone conversations, you are in contact with courts and authorities, and stuff like that. We highlight that in our recruiting meetings with the students.”
Brogyanyi describes surprisingly progressive attitudes towards a work/life balance at the firm as well. “What we try to offer is flexible working time,” he said. “This doesn’t mean you can come whenever you want, of course. But if you want to work half time, or 70% or whatever, this is a fine deal for us. Just tell me in advance and we will accommodate that.” He nods vigorously when asked whether lawyers at the firm actually ask for this option. “Obviously first-year and second-year don’t often take advantage of this opportunity,” he says. “But we have some associates who are fathers or mothers already or who are working on part of their education, like a doctoral thesis, and they say things like well, four days a week are fine for me, but the fifth day I have to attend classes, or something like that.”
In his opinion, this unusual flexibility is part of an overall team spirit. “At the end of the day, this package that we offer leads to a very positive working climate here. So all the associates are basically working as a team, and they tend to help each other to a great extent. Over time, this give/take is something that is quite special to our firm. This helping relationship is top-down, and bottom-up, basically, and it happens all the time. And that helps us give the flexibility in working hours and working days.”
Only at the end of the conversation does Brogyanyi turn to the firm’s social programs. “We have an annual Christmas party, and a summer party, where we take a whole day off, take the whole firm, and take them somewhere in the area. We’ve done paintball and volleyball, and things like that. This is highly regarded. And it ends with a big party. We also do one outing a year for the Wiener Wiesn-Fest – the Austrian Oktoberfest – when everyone comes in their traditional outfits. This is a highlight of the year.” Finally, he says, there’s a monthly round-table party at the restaurant below the office for the entire firm, including staff.
Brogyanyi is asked how he would describe Dorda as a place to work. “I think it’s a very friendly environment,” he says. “We try to make it possible for everyone to focus on what they are working on here. We are people with humor. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know that we have to work on serious matters and deliver high quality, but in order to achieve that it is necessary to have a comfortable working environment.”
Knoetzl: Focus on Employee Satisfaction
Unlike Brogyanyi, Knoetzl Managing Partner Tim Pfister quickly turns the conversation to the many efforts his firm makes to ensure that each of its lawyers are respected, heard, and valued.
“We have a lot of concern about the care and feeding of our people,” Pfister says. As an example, he cites the firm’s annual Tombola – a Christmas-time raffle. “Our senior founding partner came from a firm where she thought it was not all that in the spirit of the season when the firm management walked away with a bundle of expensive goodies, and took them home,” he says. “The staff saw that, and didn’t have any shot at it.” At Knoetzl, he says, “all those gifts that are given by vendors to the partners at Christmas time are put under the Christmas tree, and people draw for them in a Tombula.” He waves his hand. “It’s not a big deal,” he laughs. “But it is a good reflection of our philosophy.”
Pfister says that he personally takes the lead on two employee satisfaction programs at the firm. First, he says, “I have an annual, face-to-face meeting with every employee of this law firm – from the most senior founding partner to the guy who has accepted but has not yet started as a part-time messenger – to ask them ‘how are we – the firm – doing for you, and how can we improve?’ It’s an interesting process, and I try very hard to implement whatever suggestions are made.”
In addition, he says, he leads a “Drinks With Tim,” campaign, taking different groups of 5-6 lawyers at a time out for drinks over the course of a year. “It’s not a review,” he smiles. “The topics are such things as ‘what is it like, and what is like relative to your expectations, to be a lawyer?’, ‘wait! … what???,’ and even ‘where in Vienna can you find the best steak?’”
Pfister reports that Knoetzl takes many opportunities to celebrate firm successes with parties in the lounge that was specially designed for the purpose, or on the firm’s rooftop terraces. “We believe that it’s important to celebrate our wins, our good news, our births – we just had our first firm baby,” he laughs. “Parties on the terraces or around the staff-use part of the reception floor. That doesn’t come free. And the reason we do that has nothing to do with our clients. We do it exclusively for our employees. We specifically chose these wonderful premises to give our employees a pleasant place to work.”
Knoetzl, Pfister says, like the other leading firms in Vienna, schedules several major social events a year. “We also have external gatherings from time to time,” he says. “Like the “Weinwandertag, where we walk – and drink! – through the vineyards of Vienna’s 19th district.” In addition, he adds, “we also make a point of getting together in the summer for outings, and we have a Christmas party somewhere off campus.”
Knoetzl’s American-born Managing Partner – himself an avid American college basketball fan – brought a little bit of his home country to the firm as well. “We have an office NCAA basketball pool,” Pfister laughs, “in which everyone has become comfortable – even enthusiastic – about playing.” He notes with pride that his favorite team, the University of Virginia, won this year’s tournament (leading Knoetzl Office Manager Philipp Hirschauer to add, regretfully, that he chose Duke). “We also have a soccer one and we plan a skiing pool.”
Pfister finds it difficult to articulate a specific law firm culture or environment at Knoetzl. “There’s not a uniform answer to that,” he says, reflecting. “Because lawyers are individuals, and individuals are – and are encouraged to be – different from one another. That’s probably something, in my charge to make this more like a Wall Street firm, that I need to reinforce over time.”
In the meantime, he says, “all we say to recruits is that we look for people who are both ‘gut and gut’ – that they are both good and excellent. Good people, and excellent lawyers. That’s it – that’s what we’re looking for.”
CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz: Confident with the International Profile
Partner Gunther Hanslik feels that extra benefits are beside the point at the Vienna headquarters of CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz. “First of all, I really genuinely think we don’t have to do much to make it a good place to work,” he says, smiling. “People like working here, because they like the team spirit, they like the premises, the atmosphere, and international aspect. And that’s what we really want them to experience as well.”
Hanslik notes that CMS’s international footprint provides associates with options and opportunities they cannot get at purely domestic law firms. “We regularly send young lawyers to international CMS Associates meetings and CMS trainings,” he says. “These programs are organized by the practice groups, and most do it annually, or every 18 months.”
CMS is also committed to the professional development of its lawyers, Hanslik says, pointing to a professional development program similar to the one Christoph Brogyanyi described at Dorda. “CMS has a program called the Core Curriculum for juniors and seniors,” Hanslik said, “and then later on for junior partners and even senior partners. We don’t just focus on technical stuff, but also soft skill trainings and personal development trainings.”
Ultimately, Hanslik believes that CMS’s commitment to professional development and international training is the key selling point. “All that means we don’t have to do too much besides that.”
Still, he concedes that the firm does sponsor several purely social events, including CMS’s annual firm-wide soccer tournament (held in a different country each year, with over 500 young lawyers participating), an annual firm-wide Christmas party (involving all the lawyers from Reich-Rohrwig Hainz’s ten offices in South Eastern Europe), and an annual July event specifically for the Vienna office. In addition, he says, the firm brings in a masseuse once a week for lawyers seeking to destress, and provides a membership discount at the nearby health-club.
Still, Hanslik insists, an over-emphasis on frills risks distracting lawyers from the task at hand. “For me it’s a little bit about being authentic as well,” he said. “It is after all a professional service place, where we focus on making our clients happy. It can include long hours, work on the weekend, and so on. And so we focus on people who love being lawyers and love working as lawyers. Plus our philosophy is that it’s more important that the working atmosphere is good, the teams work well together, in the sense that they enjoy working together.”
Hanslik’s answer to how he would describe CMS’s culture is short: “Friendly. Open.”
Schoenherr: Creature Comforts
Schoenherr Director of Business Operations and Director of Marketing Birgit Telsnig is enthusiastic about the various ways the Schoenherr office itself encourages cooperation among lawyers and a facilitates what she describes as a healthy, mentally sound staff, pointing as examples to an in-office gym, several dedicated nap rooms, free branded bicycles and scooters, and more. She starts the conversation with a tour of the office, which the firm moved into in 2014.
“We don’t own the building, we rent it,” Telsnig explains, walking through the firm’s impressive fitness area. “And when you rent, you need to utilize the available area in the best way possible. As part of our health and employee benefits, we decided to use the additional space for a fitness studio with showers.” There’s more. “Four times a week a trainer comes, in the evening, and they offer free training for everyone,” Telsnig says, happily. “You literally can come here 24/7. Even on weekends. And our lawyers really enjoy, when their heads are really full, they can come down here, have their training, have their run, and then go upstairs again. It’s a really nice added value.”
“We want to get rid of this dual-class thinking. Everything is for lawyers and business professionals. Everyone has an important role. If one doesn’t fulfill his or her tasks, the whole surrounding doesn’t work anymore. Both lawyers and business support are included in our education systems and programs.”
Telsnig insists that the firm’s three dedicated nap rooms are less unusual than they may seem. “Power napping is very normal in other countries. It’s just very normal. And we also don’t think it’s a big deal.” Ultimately, she says, “it’s not about keeping people here for longer working hours. It’s just giving them the chance to relax. We want to create a real collaboration space.”
Schoenherr Managing Partner Michael Lagler points out that the various benefits are not reserved for the firm’s lawyers. “We want to get rid of this dual-class thinking. Everything is for lawyers and business professionals. Everyone has an important role. If one doesn’t fulfill his or her tasks, the whole surrounding doesn’t work anymore. Both lawyers and business support are included in our education systems and programs.”
Like other firms, Schoenherr organizes regular social events. Lagler describes a firm Happy Hour, held four times a year at a watering hole across the street, as “one of our most liked programs. Where we just say come, and meet.” And the firm’s annual Christmas Party, attended by lawyers and business support personnel from all 14 of the firm’s offices across CEE, is legendary both inside and outside Vienna. According to Lagler, “we like it – we like to have a good environment. We’re not a firm that wants people coming in and having no personal life anymore.”
Lagler is asked how he would describe the firm’s culture. “I mean culture and values – these are always kind of mixed up,” he says. “But the main firm culture is that people understand that we are a group of people who want to give the best on a day by day basis, and this is only possible if we work together.”
It’s All About Choice
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” – Aristotle
The way the lawyers we spoke with chose to direct the conversations reveals something about their priorities, and it illustrates the different ways top tier firms can promote themselves, both internally and externally.
It goes without saying that the aspects of their firms the individuals we spoke with chose to emphasize does not mean that other aspects do not exist. Indeed, each of the firms we spoke with has achieved its position on the market through a combination of – in addition to highly-deserved reputations for skilled, consistent client service – employee retention efforts, professional development opportunities, good office environments, and a commitment to employee satisfaction.
Still, the various packages the firms offer and the way they describe their focuses creates intriguing variety for fresh graduates and prospective employees. In other words: Where would you like to work … and what kind of culture would you create?
This Article was originally published in Issue 6.6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.