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The Corner Office: Skills of Tomorrow

The Corner Office: Skills of Tomorrow

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In The Corner Office, we ask Managing Partners at law firms across Central and Eastern Europe about their backgrounds, strategies, and responsibilities. Given the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the legal profession, we asked: What is the one critical skill that you’re investing time and energy in to develop within your team, and why?

Timur Bondaryev, Managing Partner, Arzinger: Most recent developments in the world have dramatically changed the way and format of communication. Remote work has significantly contributed to this trend – some young employees haven’t even experienced proper office experience and haven’t even had a chance to communicate with their office colleagues in the “old-fashioned” way. The younger generation has grown up using various messengers and they don’t really use phone calls to communicate – everything goes through text. On the one hand, this has boosted efficiency. On the other hand, people have lost human connection, which has been crucial for successful communication and achieving goals in daily life. Bearing all this in mind, I strongly believe that strong communication skills are the key to success, and these are exactly the soft skills and development that I strongly encourage my team to focus on. Very straightforward, concise, and focused communication is, without a doubt, the key to success.

Borivoj Libal, Managing Partner, Eversheds Sutherland Czech Republic: Our efforts are dedicated to supporting and improving teamwork within the relevant teams in our office and also help the lateral thinking of each individual. Teamwork is an absolute must for a big law firm providing comprehensive advice in varying sectors.

Kostadin Sirleshtov, Managing Partner, CMS Sofia: The most critical skill I am investing time and energy in to develop within my team members is adaptivity (agility). There are many reasons for picking this skill. Still, the main one remains that we are based and provide services in CEE, where changes of circumstances (political, economic, legal, regulatory, etc.) happen very often and occasionally – overnight. Furthermore, in our part of the world, you can’t allow yourself to be just narrowly specialized. You definitely need to know your key area of expertise in detail, but in order to be able to survive in the stormy waters that we need to navigate, lawyers need to be able to perform professional tasks and understand the legal environment in areas, which are sometimes beyond their comfort zones. Luckily, my team has adopted such a mindset and it has led to great results and good levels of personal satisfaction.

Paul Buta, Managing Partner, Musat & Asociatii: The one critical skill that I would like to see engendered in the team this year is the ability to pace work in such a way as to always maintain an as broad and diverse perspective as possible. In these times, there is, I believe, a tendency to rush to the most obvious conclusion or down the closest path while keeping an eye out solely for what is straight ahead. In so doing, lawyers tend to lose the specific value added to their experience and compete (soon, if not already, unsuccessfully) with AI, which can deliver better results at an even higher speed. I, therefore, urge my team to pause, raise their heads, and try to analyze both assumptions and strategies from multiple perspectives, looking for the best balance between the clients’ short-, medium-, and long-term interests and the most effective means of achieving such. I believe that this is the path toward properly integrating technology, including AI, into our value-creating processes, allowing for the maximization of the human-specific value-add to the advice and strategy that uniquely defines our work within the market.

Bernhard Hager, Managing Partner, Eversheds Sutherland Slovakia: We consider client communication to be critical. We expect a fee earner to understand not only the law but also the business of our clients in order to understand the goals behind their legal issues. It is not difficult to write a long text full of legal phrases, but we endeavor to bring it down to a short document understandable for our clients with no time for irrelevant information. We organize workshops with client partners and even with clients to get a better understanding of sectors, industries, and clients. For legal writing, we provide training and make use of the know-how provided globally by Eversheds Sutherland.

Pavel Hristov, Managing Partner, Hristov & Partners: Like all other professional services, ours is client-centered. For our lawyers, client satisfaction with the overall service is critical. To consistently achieve it, all of us need to develop and maintain one critical skill: empathy, for truly understanding the needs of our client, not generally by area, industry, organization, etc., but individually, on a case-by-case basis. Each of our lawyers learns how to internalize the customer’s goals, point of view, and objective and subjective situation – mostly by listening, asking relevant questions, and placing themselves in the client’s position. Empathy can be improved with practice. Hence, we constantly encourage our people to practice and develop it in our client relationships, and internally among ourselves.

Ivana Ruzicic, Managing Partner, PR Legal: Recently, one critical skill has come to the forefront: effective communication of legal advice. In our fast-paced world, delivering counsel concisely yet clearly has proven to be essential. It is crucial to structure advice in a manner that is not only easily comprehensible but also resonates with the recipient, providing answers to the questions posed. Within our team, I have been actively investing time and energy in refining the skill of clear and straightforward communication. I believe that this proficiency not only facilitates a more efficient exchange of information but also contributes to the overall effectiveness of our legal services. I often share with my junior colleagues the importance of conveying advice in a manner they would appreciate receiving themselves.

Mykola Stetsenko, Managing Partner, Avellum: We, as Partners, always invest a lot of time in the delegation skills of our Associates. For Junior Associates, it is important to learn how to deal with multiple tasks from senior managers and how to estimate and manage their time accordingly. On the other hand, for mid-level and Senior Associates, it is crucial to learn how to delegate simpler tasks to Junior Associates without holding on to those tasks that they used to do when at the junior level. It is important for us to ensure that more Senior Associates know how to teach Junior Associates and manage their time, so that the process of delegation is not erratic, while the quality of product is up to Avellum standards.

Panagiotis Drakopoulos, Managing Partner, Drakopoulos: I would say that behaving with (a wider sense of) empathy toward the client and their actual needs is key for any service provider – and more so for lawyers. To this effect, we encourage fee earners, most of all, to take ownership of their work, but not predominantly for themselves, nor for our firm; priority should be accorded to the client’s needs and objectives, always in line with the ethics and norms of our profession. What we strive to instill in the members of our teams is the firm belief that performing their work to achieve client goals and be considerate of the client’s wishes and demands is, first and foremost, the raison d’etre of our firm, which in turn provides an ideal environment for them to grow as professionals.

Tomas Bagdanskis, Managing Partner, ILaw Lextal: In our law firm, it‘s all about developing our communication skills! Year after year, the question that we focus exceptionally on is how we best connect with and serve our clients. We consistently aim for straightforward dialogue, regular updates, and quick responses. While the goal is easy to define, it is not as easy to achieve! The next relevant question then follows – how do we make sure that our people understand the necessity of such a goal and are inspired to contribute to the achievement personally? The key here is feedback and consistent examination of the best ways to give and receive it. Without that, it’s impossible to improve and move forward. Learning to receive feedback involves cultivating an open mind, actively listening without defensiveness, and asking clarifying questions. It additionally requires one to be capable of accepting criticism and admitting to their mistakes.

Istvan Szatmary, Managing Partner, Oppenheim: My aim is to alert the team to the pitfalls of unpleasant, difficult, or even frightening situations, whether it is a dialogue between colleagues in the firm, a conversation with an unhappy or frustrated client, a court hearing or a negotiation with an opponent who is not playing fair. In routine situations, we lawyers see ourselves as professionals who should argue as much as possible to convince courts, opponents, and colleagues that we are right. We tend to believe that clients and opponents expect us to behave in this way. It is then typical that self-reflection ceases to play a role, and you end up at a dead end: no solution to the business problem, no solution to the client’s frustration, or the latent tension between colleagues. Is there a way to avoid such impasses? I am convinced that there is a way out: you have to be open and receptive. It requires a lot of discipline and the ability not to use your standard communication techniques. You have to be brave enough not to argue, but to ask open questions and try to really understand where the other side is coming from. The art of listening is not an easy skill to learn. But once you start using it, it will lead to brilliant results.

Balazs Karsai, Managing Partner, Nagy es Trocsanyi: The one critical skill that I am investing time and energy in to develop within my team is communication, with special regard to responsiveness. We must ensure that the client feels that they are in good hands and that we take their problems and challenges just as seriously as if they were our own. This obviously requires an appropriate level of empathy, sensitivity, and EQ as well. Responsiveness helps convince clients that we are all in the same boat, which is indeed the case. Having excellent legal knowledge is a great thing, but this can easily be undermined if you fail in communication. We cannot leave the client alone while they place their trust in us. Neither of us would be happy if the same happened to us – it’s as simple as that.

Serhiy Chorny, Managing Partner, Baker McKenzie Kyiv: The top critical skill would be providing the client with concise and clear advice that they can use immediately in their business, without the need to bounce e-mails or calls back and forth with us requesting clarifications of uncertain statements or indicating areas of concern which have not been addressed. Developing this skill is really an art and takes time and effort, but it is well worth the investment as the result is a growing number of satisfied clients and therefore a strong competitive advantage in the market.

Tarik Guleryuz, Managing Partner, Guleryuz Partners: One critical skill I am dedicated to developing within our team definitely is critical thinking. In the legal profession, where complex issues and nuanced situations abound, the ability to think critically is paramount for several reasons. We recognize that critical thinking is not just a skill but a mindset that allows us to approach legal issues from fresh perspectives. When establishing our team, we attach importance to this skill. It is particularly valuable in navigating intricate legal matters where straightforward solutions may be elusive. Cultivating critical thinking skills empowers our team to anticipate potential challenges and mitigate risks effectively and fosters a culture of continuous learning and adaptation within our firm. Ultimately, fostering a culture of out-of-the-box thinking drives positive outcomes for our clients and upholds high standards.

Octavian Popescu, Managing Partner, Popescu & Asociatii: From a business perspective, professional communication requires more than understanding the basics of an effective communication process. It is widely known that communication is fundamental at any level within a company regardless of the tier it occurs on. However, it holds particular relevance for legal professionals – both in the relationships developed between lawyers within the law firm and in the lawyer-client relationship. That’s why the ability to communicate accurately and effectively, at the highest level, is a critical skill for each member of the law firm and contributes to a successful business. In this context, it becomes necessary to invest time and resources to improve this ability periodically within the team in order to maintain strong internal connections and develop long-lasting partnerships with the clients. 

Alina Popescu, Managing Partner, MPR Partners: Two key words: business acumen. For business lawyers to deliver top-quality advice in full synergy with their client’s businesses, it is critical and imperiously necessary that they understand the business context in which legal issues (may) arise. Business lawyers must consequently accurately grasp their clients’ industries, business models, and strategic objectives in order to offer tailored top-quality legal solutions. It also allows them to anticipate potential legal challenges, identify opportunities, and provide proactive advice that contributes to the overall success of the client’s business. Lawyers with business acumen are better equipped to offer strategic counsel that aligns with the broader organizational objectives. In order to acquire it, business lawyers are required to attend sector-specific business and networking events, conferences, and client meetings and be up to date with the business landscape both nationally and internationally through press, media, and other up-to-date informational means that are constantly put at their disposal.

Nenad Popovic, Managing Partner, JPM & Partners: The legal services industry has been transformed by technical innovation in recent years. Legal tech and AI have revolutionized the way law firms deliver and price their services, as clients demand more value for less money. This trend is unstoppable, and legal AI will soon become a common tool, like PCs, word processors, and MS Office. Law firms and lawyers must adopt this new skill quickly to meet the client’s expectations and stay competitive. However, it is not easy to choose, test, and implement the right legal tech. It requires time and effort. I have spent a lot of time and energy selecting and introducing these technologies in the firm and training our legal staff to use them in our daily work. I am proud of the JPM team that has fully adopted the latest legal technologies and will keep working to make the firm more efficient and up-to-date with global market developments.

Helen Alexiou, Managing Partner, AKL Law Firm: I have a different professional background than most of AKL’s Associates. I was born into a family law firm; I never had to go on an interview and I never had to consider different job options. When I was younger, I used to feel “privileged” and, being a highly guilt-ridden individual, made an extra effort to prove my place in the firm. But at the same time, I was afraid others (clients and associates alike), might think I was not worthy of my position. So, I put in the extra hours, worked with extra passion, fought extra hard for a seat at the table, and worked extra hard to differentiate my work from the so-called crowd. This led, inadvertently, to my “leading by example.” In striving to earn or “keep my seat,” I worked hard to identify opportunities; in honoring my family’s history, I taught younger lawyers our values; in looking for ways to grow, I created a different version of legal services, which clients find refreshing. I am proud to say that “practicing what I preach” has resulted in a team that is cohesive and effective, ultimately enhancing client satisfaction and contributing to the success and reputation of our firm.

Cristina Filip, Managing Partner, Filip & Company: There are two intertwined abilities that have most of my focus: (1) task ownership and (2) team collaboration. I believe these two are essential to building our value-based community and growing a constructive culture. Task ownership means I got this task. I am responsible for myself, I mind the task from beginning to end, I know the meaning of the task in its evolution throughout the project, I manage the risks associated with the task and I deliver those results associated with the task which are necessary for all the other task minders and for the entire project to succeed and for the client relationship to flourish. Team collaboration means we are rising together. I need to show up for my colleagues in ways that they need me to, not just ways that are comfortable to me, I generate opportunities for my colleagues and I am interested and willing to support my colleagues in meeting their needs and I count on my colleagues to do the same for me and we are growing together and rising together to achieve our professional goals and potential.

Weronika Achramowicz, Managing Partner, Baker McKenzie Warsaw: I often tell my team that the quality of their work is the result of a combination of factors: academic proficiency, teamwork, high professional ethics, day-to-day effort, focus, and the ability to take no shortcuts when there are time or enthusiasm constraints. All these create a foundation for mastering the one skill I find crucial: Looking through the complexity of a matter – extracting the essence of an issue, translating it into a simple piece of advice, in plain English, and in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow manner – and getting things done. It sounds so simple, but to actually get something done (to drive a deal to a successful closing, to complete a cross-border project, or to guide on an unprecedented issue) in today’s world of complexity is a challenge. To do it in a way that looks simple, to maintain joy in doing what we do, and to combine it with a fulfilling personal life and keeping a work-life balance (a buzz term but very true) is no small task.

Tomasz Stasiak, Co-Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss Poland: The fundamental to succeed in any professional role, regardless of position, is the ability to discern and prioritize key issues over less important ones. Mastering this skill is a never-ending process as circumstances evolve and shift the relative weight of various issues.

Olexiy Soshenko, Managing Partner, Redcliffe Partners: This depends on the level of fee earner. For juniors and mid-levels, it is project management by showing junior colleagues how to manage projects effectively using several techniques. Apart from the fundamentals of legal work, project management is also important as lawyers need to be good managers to deal with challenging, complex assignments and tasks when assisting clients. Lawyers need to be client-oriented in what they do and, when the project is managed efficiently, the client is pleased and the firm utilizes both its own and the client’s resources effectively. For more senior fee earners, it would be the ability to attract and develop clients. The generation of work is a prerequisite for both personal development and the growth of, and further prospects for, the firm.

Dragan Dameski, Managing Partner, Debarliev, Dameski & Kelesoska: Nowadays we are focusing on the development of communication as a critical skill among our team. Yes, old simple basic communication – exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. Why? We believe that communication is a basic tool for the development of all other interpersonal professional and soft skills, like teamwork, leadership, motivation, empathy, building relationships, etc. Furthermore, nothing ruins projects quite like a lack of communication. Aligning communication among the team has become important more than ever in now a time with flexy-time or remote work, meaning the staff can work their hours when feel most motivated. Therefore, it is crucial everyone in the team understands the need to develop, improve, and apply an open and effective channel for communication ultimately leading to development of positive professional relationships. Solid communication keeps everyone in the team engaged with the work, fosters the firm culture, and brings more profit.

Bogdan Gecic, Managing Partner, Gecic Law: In an increasingly competitive legal landscape, technical expertise is no longer sufficient. The ability to understand client needs, provide tailored service, and forge strong, trust-based relationships distinguishes outstanding legal professionals. Client care goes beyond mere responsiveness. It is also about a deep understanding of the client’s business, which builds our capacity to offer impactful and relevant solutions. We offer our lawyers numerous opportunities to enhance their practical knowledge of their clients’ industries. This entails formal and informal training, such as client factory visits and sales coaching. Client care also involves soft skills, such as active listening, empathy, and the capacity to personalize our approach. We focus on our team’s communication skills to ensure that they connect with clients on different levels. This involves regular training, client feedback analysis, and role-playing to simulate various client interactions. In an era when clients have more choices than ever, the depth and breadth of service and client experience we provide are paramount.

Lukas Michalik, Partner, Ments: I’d emphasize the importance of technological proficiency. We are a paperless, digital law firm focusing on modern areas of law such as life sciences, tech, M&A, fintech, and compliance – that means our clients are usually tech-savvy and we need to be too. Being technologically proficient revamps also the way we provide service to the client and thus my colleagues need to know the ins and outs of using modern tools such as client portals, Notion, and various legal tech. My vision is to bring our practice away from emails and into a modern, secure, and controlled interface. By investing in ongoing education in the latest digital tools and platforms, we’re ensuring our team is not just prepared for the future but is actively shaping it.

Perry Zizzi, Managing Partner, Dentons Romania: The one critical skill that I am investing time and energy to develop within my team is facilitating a deep understanding of the uses and limitations of generative AI. On one hand, lawyers need to understand how AI impacts and will impact our clients in various sectors and be able to advise them on the related legal considerations. On the other hand, we need to find ways to incorporate generative AI securely into our own work in order to remain competitive.

Pal Jalsovszky, Managing Partner, Jalsovszky: Developing a business mindset. We are a business law firm assisting in the business affairs of our clients. Moreover, our firm itself operates as a profit-driven commercial entity. Consequently, it is imperative for us to employ attorneys who possess a keen business mind, a necessity both from a client advisory standpoint and for the strategic interests of our firm. This is, however, a skill that is not necessarily present from the outset of one’s career. In their university curriculum, our lawyers receive pure academic knowledge, graduating without the practical business insight essential for our operations. We need, therefore, to focus very consciously on allowing our lawyers to understand the business rationale behind a transaction, or a client request – so that they can, later on, provide strategically sound and feasible counsel to the client, while concurrently safeguarding our firm’s commercial objectives.

Stefan Botezatu, Managing Partner, Act Legal Romania: We believe that a business-oriented approach is essential for success. Thus, the one critical skill that we’re investing time and energy in to develop within our team is the entrepreneurial mindset – crucial, in our view, for any team’s success. Entrepreneurial-minded lawyers are better positioned to identify and respond to the evolving needs of our clients. By raising a mindset of innovation, our team can proactively contribute to the development of cutting-edge legal solutions that provide added value to our clients – both in terms of legal tools and legal strategies.

This article was originally published in Issue 11.2 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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