Joerg Menzer is a German citizen based in Bucharest, where he coordinates Noerr’s CEE practice for international clients. He specializes in M&A transactions and concentrates on structuring major foreign investments and business expansion projects in CEE.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current role with Noerr.
Joerg: I just turned 50, so don’t ask me to run too fast (smiles), but I can gladly share my history. I’ve been with Noerr for quite a while now: 17 years. I started here in 2001, after regular studies and PhD in Nurnberg and Nottingham, and my trainee experiences in the US and Germany. My first lawyer years started in Dusseldorf in 1999, at a law firm that had very strong leading lawyers, but unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. Quite a pity actually. But two years after that I joined Noerr and moved to Munich - a decision I’m still proud of.
CEELM: When did the Bucharest office open? And when did you move there?
Joerg: The office opened in 1998. I moved here as Managing Partner three years later, in 2001.
CEELM: Was it always your goal to work abroad?
Joerg: It wasn’t, actually. But I fell in love. And moved literally with all my heart and work to Bucharest. In the mean-time there is so much travel involved, that I’m somehow always “abroad.”
CEELM: You fell in love? Do you mean with the city?
Joerg: Well, it takes time to fall in love with Bucharest. The city has its rough and angry parts, and the love for Bucharest comes after a certain time spent here. In fact, I met my wife, who is also a lawyer in Germany, while we were both working in the same international law firm. She originates from Romania and was the main driving force that led me here.
CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years.
Joerg: If you mean the Bucharest office of Noerr, it started as a simple commercial law team with four or five people and became a highly specialized full service law firm over the years, including fiscal and financial experts, with over 55 total staff and 35-plus advisors currently. It was heavy duty at first, with nights slept and spent at the office. There were times when the PC keyboard was my pillow. Meanwhile I am responsible for all CEE offices of Noerr. The first CEE office I was asked to take care of as regional partner in charge was Budapest, followed by Prague and Bratislava. Three years ago, I also took on the responsibility of the Warsaw office. We added a whole team of 20-plus professionals and boosted our operation strongly in the last two years.
CEELM: How would clients describe your style?
Joerg: A tough question indeed. I like to believe that clients are confident in my skills, judgment, and character. As you know the claim of Noerr is: Strong characters make strong partners! This is who we are: highly professional, ethical above all, and caring for the needs of our clients beyond just simply delivering legal advice. I feel that my/our clients enjoy having a real partner who understands and cares about their business and helps them to achieve their goals.
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the Romanian and German judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
Joerg: It might be surprising, but I feel that the differences do not rest so much on the judicial system, but more on the sophistication of its execution. German lawyers are trained to become judges – all of them. They form part of the legal system and their highest obligation is to defend the rule of law. I learned that most of the lawyer colleagues in Romania have the same spirit, but the system here as such does not allow always all participants – judges, clerks, lawyers, prosecutors and alike – to live up to these unwavering principles. Obviously, the technical outfit of the system and the degree of specialization of courts, judges, and lawyers is also not as profound as in Germany.
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
Joerg: One would wonder, but there are similarities. In both capitals for example – Bucharest and Berlin – many people complain about the situation. “This is wrong,” or “that is missing,” etc., but not everybody gets involved in changing the situation. The biggest difference is that in Germany – at the end of the day – the administration and political leadership react to public pressure and do their job. I’m missing this more and more in Romania. And it’s a pity, especially since the country just turned a hundred this year.
CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
Joerg: A certain potential to zoom out faster for a necessary bird’s-eye view. In addition, I come with a different upbringing and education, and thus a different set of skills which I use in interacting with colleagues and clients. Also, I feel quite comfortable negotiating and intermediating in and with both cultures. This proved to benefit both me and my firm, as well as my clients in the most unexpected – sometimes even tense – situations.
CEELM: Do you have any plans to move back to Germany?
Joerg: I’m too busy at the moment to make that call yet. Unfortunately, with five countries to run and obligations on an international level – I hold some functions in international organizations like the IBA – I am already away from my home and family too much. In the long term, I guess I will enjoy my pension years around Munich (laughs), but this seems centuries away.
CEELM: Outside of Romania, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?
Joerg: There’s a great mixture of known and unknown, familiar and unfamiliar in the cultures of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia that always attract me. There is still an island of familiar German influence in many parts. For example, in the Czech Republic and Hungary I always feel a kindness that makes me feel very welcome. Poland impresses me with the strong dedication to moving forward and an amazing speed of development. Warsaw is a vibrant city which attracts me for business, but also great restaurants and fun people. Bratislava I enjoy for the nice old town and the closeness of cultures with Vienna, where I also spend quite some time with friends. Thus, I take my time in every country and city where Noerr has offices. I am proud to contribute to further development and I really enjoy working there.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Bucharest?
Joerg: Probably the Caru’ cu bere restaurant. Good food – a bit noisy, but delicate and alive at the same time. Despite being a very touristy place, I always promote it as one of Bucharest’s gems.
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.12 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.