“We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson. Choosing a profession is always a pivotal point in everyone’s life. Once we set our minds and find our path, we try to dedicate all our energy and effort to making the best of it. The 21st century, however, has already left a mark on all our careers with its constant demand for adapting to new needs, circumstances, and business and work climates.
Having been appointed the Managing Partner of the Budapest office of Baker McKenzie has made me reflect on my career, especially how the role of an outside counsel has changed through these times, not just on the global landscape but in the CEE region as well. When I started, filled with knowledge of the law, I had a limited understanding of the complexities the profession requires and has developed to require ever since. I had an idea of how I would apply the rules on different matters. What I did not know is how much more would be expected of me if I wanted to do well.
In the sphere of business law, lawyering has become much more layered than we once were prepared for. Being a diligent student and a hard-working legal counsel have proved to be far from sufficient in today’s work climate. The ultimate feature of a lawyer has shifted from well-educated to savvy. Knowing the law thoroughly is obviously the most important requirement in our field. Yet, it is hardly enough in this ever-changing world and competitive market. Besides bearing legal expertise, one must widen their horizon and learn how to dive into specific industries and areas, mainly those of prospective clients, and learn to swim faster than others. Clients expect us to understand their business. Logically, it helps them tremendously if they do not need to explain the business environment to the lawyers they work with. What can make or break a client relationship is industry knowledge and providing business-minded, practical, and user-friendly advice.
Proving yourself as a lawyer is just the basic package. In order to stand out from the crowd, you must be willing to elevate your worth by being more circumspect than your peers. Being vigilant and never underestimating where good ideas may come from can be game-changing approaches. All the more so, once appointed an outside legal counsel, clients expect you to deliver a full-service solution with a holistic approach. Most of the time nowadays, it is not only a lawyer they need but someone with a versatile mindset, who fixes things.
Familiarizing ourselves with legal tech and innovations can also prove to be a defining point to stand out. While lawyering is generally viewed as a traditional profession, with the development of technology, this field is quickly evolving into a sector that requires tech skills if one wants to gain a competitive advantage in the market. In general, it is true that birds of a feather flock together, so clients look for advisors that understand their needs and their language.
As we are heading towards economically challenging times globally, and also in the CEE region, the additional skills and finesse an attorney can bring to their clients are crucial. Such times will continue bringing complexities, where swift and effective legal advice will be more valuable than ever. Even though I expect some clients may experience financial difficulties, if we bring a value proposition to our clients, all shall benefit.
Finally, never underestimate the value of human connections. We feel the burden of the expectation of high-quality work and the required time and investment of efforts. We should not lose sight of one very important element for a successful career, and that is building our own business network and strong human contacts. The business-minded and supportive attitude should kick in early on, the sooner the better, so that, when difficult times hit, there is a circle around us that we can rely on.
By Akos Fehervary, Managing Partner, Baker McKenzie Budapest