Theis Klauberg took a circuitous route to managing his eponymous firm in the Baltics. He began his education in Germany, at the University of Hamburg, Heidelberg University, and Humboldt University of Berlin, before obtaining an LL.M. at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, then concluding his formal education with an MBA at the Baltic Management Institute. His professional career has been no less diverse, as he has worked in Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, and Zimbabwe.
In January, 2019, Klauberg left bnt in the Baltics, which he had helped found in 2003, to start his own pan-Baltic firm: Klauberg Baltics. We reached out to him to learn more about his career path, growing firm, and plans for the future.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current position as head of Klauberg Baltics.
Theis: I am a German lawyer based in the Baltic States, and my bar memberships are from Hamburg, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. I arrived in the Baltics with a group of students from Berlin´s Humboldt University in the 1990s, initially to set up a student exchange program. That student exchange actually still exists, and 20 Latvian and German law students participate in it each year. Following the end of communism in CEE this was obviously a very interesting region, and over the years I decided to become part of this evolving legal market. A Latvian friend and I opened up a law firm in Riga in 2003, which later became one of the founding offices of the CEE law firm alliance bnt. Following that we founded local law firms in Lithuania, Estonia, and Belarus as part of bnt. The timing was of course lucky, as after EU expansion to the region in 2004 international law firms started to refer a lot more work here. It wasn’t exactly difficult – we picked up a Magic Circle firm over a chance encounter in a Riga hotel bar, and we still advise them regularly today! In 2018 I left the bnt alliance, and as Managing Partner of Klauberg Baltics I oversee the teams in Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius. I still enjoy the emerging market feeling in this region, but there is a lot more to discover here, and summer in the Baltics is fantastic!
CEELM: What is Klauberg Baltics, and how has it grown since its creation? What’s your plan for the firm?
Theis: It’s a full-service Baltic firm, with four legal focus areas – and another focus is of course on German-speaking inbound investment. We started out with ten legal professionals, and in 2020 the team will grow to 15 lawyers at different levels of seniority. The firm is structured as an integrated legal services provider for the Baltics: Our clients are based in Frankfurt, London, Singapore, and everywhere in-between, and they view the three countries as one (and they often mix them up, even though we keep reminding them that the Baltic States are arranged in alphabetical order from North to South). We are an innovative firm and try to incorporate IT, AI, and new working arrangements, but in terms of the values we represent in our work it’s quite a traditional law firm. Everyone on the team is used to working across borders, cultures, and of course legal systems and practices. The mix simply makes our work more interesting. International exchange is something we also support in other initiatives, such as our international trainee program, and the annual DIS Baltic Arbitration Days conference. The plan is to grow the firm´s capabilities, not necessarily its size.
CEELM: You have moved around the world a great deal in your studies and professional career. Was it always your goal to work abroad?
Theis: Yes, and after CEE opened up, I wanted to work here. I like the region a lot. It is simply more interesting to work in an emerging market, and there is still a lot of enthusiasm for open markets and the EU here. Also, living abroad in Europe is not as big of a step as it used to be: cheap air travel connects the Baltics to most major European cities, which is quite different from when you had to take a bus for 30 hours to get from Riga to Berlin. Soon you will be able to take a brand-new high speed rail link on that exact route.
CEELM: How would clients describe your style?
Theis: Reliable and straight-forward – I hope!
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the Baltic and German judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
Theis: The legal and judicial systems of the Baltic States and Germany are actually quite closely-related and similar, especially in business law. Estonia and Latvia for example follow German company and commercial law very closely, and EU law has harmonized most legal areas connected to commerce. Since the end of the USSR and especially EU accession the Baltic justice systems have obviously moved much closer to what lawyers are used to in Germany. Court practice still differs a lot, though not always in a way one would expect: electronic communication, use of IT in legal sources, and electronic signatures are common in the Baltics, but Germany is far behind. Baltic lawyers struggle to believe that German courts still tend to rely on fax machines rather than email.
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
Theis: The Baltics are very open to IT and innovation in general. Germany is actually quite conservative and changes are slow, whereas in the Baltics there have been 30 years of constant change. There is a very open business culture here, and investors like that. Regarding the office culture in the Baltics, there is a tradition to create a good working environment, and help each other out. For Baltic lawyers, international assignments are common. Whereas in most Baltic business projects there is a cross-border element, German lawyers in even large firms may never deal with international issues in their entire career.
CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
Theis: Ideally they bring a network of contacts and international experience, and they can ease communication with expat clients. Knowledge of different jurisdictions makes it easier to explain legal concepts, or evaluate risks from the client’s perspective. For the firm itself it may be an advantage to introduce the kinds of work processes and outcomes that Western clients are familiar with.
CEELM: Do you have any plans to move back to Germany?
Theis: I haven’t thought about it, and the Baltics are very attractive to live and work in, so most likely Germany is more for visiting than to move back to.
CEELM: Outside of the Baltics, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?
Theis: That’s a hard question, I like visiting the Caucasus region, and would like to get to know Ukraine and Russia much better. Romania and the Balkans are on top of the travel list. Rather than a particular country I always enjoy visiting the main cities in CEE, their unchanged architecture, or brand new developments next to cafes unchanged since the 1980s.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Riga?
Theis: Miera iela has become a favorite to go out, it has kept the distinct and slightly chaotic feeling of the 90s, pop-up bars and cultural events in former factory buildings. But if you allow Riga’s beach resort of Jurmala to be counted here, I would recommend heading there by train to enjoy the sea and the impressive architecture. Indeed, our Baltic Arbitration Days conference on August 15-17 would be an excellent opportunity to see both Riga and Jurmala.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the rescheduled dates of the Baltic Arbitration Days conference.