An interview with Ted Boone of Dentons, about his path to Hungary.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current role with Dentons in Budapest.
Ted: This is my second time living and working in Budapest. I am thrilled to be back living in Hungary and to have recently joined Dentons. I grew up in a university town in central Illinois called Urbana. It has been called the “cultural capital of the cornfields” because it is where the University of Illinois, a major American public research university, is located.
After receiving my college degree from the University of Illinois, I studied at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich for a year as a Fulbright Scholar and Bavarian State Grantee. While living in Munich I took my first trip to Budapest. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Budapest’s Chain Bridge, spanning the Danube. I was hooked on this enchanting city.
So after receiving my law degree from Columbia Law School, where I focused on international commercial law (and began my study of Hungarian), I returned to Budapest on an IREX grant to conduct research on international commercial transactions at Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University’s School of Law under the guidance of Professor Ferenc Madl, who later served as the President of Hungary. After that, I joined the Budapest office of Baker & McKenzie and worked on many of the very first privatizations and foreign investments during Central Europe’s transformation to a market economy. I’ll never forget the optimism and excitement in Hungary when the Iron Curtain fell. It was an amazing and historical time to be living in Central Europe. These were all great adventures for a kid from central Illinois.
Following this first stint in Hungary I moved to Washington, DC. I worked in the DC area for many years, focusing on complex domestic and international transactions. I worked first for Arnold & Porter and then in-house as an Assistant General Counsel at EY. In recent years I also started teaching a course as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s law school on structuring, negotiating, and drafting contracts for complex commercial transactions.
But the magnetism of Central Europe, and particularly of Budapest, was never far from my mind, or indeed my heart. Not long ago I had the opportunity to join the Budapest office of Dentons and also to join the faculty of the Department of Business Law at Hungary’s Corvinus University School of Business. I jumped at the chance to do both.
CEELM: Was it always your goal to work outside of the United States?
Ted: My father was on the Mathematics faculty at the University of Illinois and we often went to Europe in the summers and for sabbaticals. As a child, I lived and went to school in Oxford, England and Bonn, Germany. One year when I was little we even did a transatlantic crossing from New York to Germany on the Bremen ocean liner. It was these experiences as a kid that planted the seeds of my long-standing affinity for Europe. I feel totally at home in Europe – particularly Hungary. To experience the pleasures of living in Budapest again, now, is superb. Among other things I get to walk to Dentons’ office on Andrassy Street, the stunning Champs-Elysees of Budapest. Sometimes I wonder if I am dreaming…
CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years.
Ted: My practice is grounded in my extensive commercial and legal experience arising from previous leadership positions in the United States and Europe at premier international law firms and one of the Big Four. My practice is focused on, among other areas, information technology, financial institutions, manufacturing, energy, entertainment, transport, consumer goods, telecom, media, real estate, biotechnology and services. My strong mix of law firm and in-house experience is something I believe clients appreciate. My ability to speak German and Hungarian in addition to English is important. As I am a former President and Chair of the Board of Governors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary I am also heavily involved in the activities of that organization.
It is truly an honor to be associated with Dentons’ Budapest office. I am well aware of the highly-respected position of Dentons here in Budapest and greatly admire its dynamic leadership. I have also been a fan of Dentons forward-looking global strategy for many years. Unlike our competitors, many of whom stood still, contracted, or withdrew from key markets in 2020, Dentons strode boldly forward in implementing its strategy to scale the firm in priority markets. In the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, Dentons announced 33 new locations around the world last year. Impressive.
CEELM: How would clients describe your style?
Ted: Practical and solution-driven. Able to analyze, explain, and balance risk. Focused, careful, and clear. Willing to go the extra mile. I’d like to think I’m also someone clients enjoy working with. You can add charming and good looking as well if you like but that’s not for me to judge.
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the Hungarian and American judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
Ted: Hungary is a civil code based system and the US is a common law based system. During my first stint in Hungary I earned a post-graduate law degree in international commercial law from Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University’s School of Law to go with my Columbia Law School JD and so am familiar with both legal systems. One encounters and must often address the ramifications of the distinction between civil code and common law systems. On a day-to-day level one of the aspects of practicing in Hungary that I very much enjoy is that the culture of conducting meetings in person remains strong. Of course, Covid has changed this for the time being, but hopefully not forever.
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
Ted: The food during business meetings is often better in Hungary than in the US. Which would you prefer – a ham sandwich and potato chips or a luscious cream of mushroom soup, followed by an aptly spiced chicken paprika and perhaps topped off with a walnut sponge cake drizzled in warm chocolate?
CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
Ted: Dentons is an international firm. It is the largest law firm in the world. Our strategy of integrated global growth while maintaining the highest standards of quality is creating a transcendent global firm. In this environment and with these goals an office such as ours needs to have both superb indigenous lawyers and highly qualified expatriate lawyers. The symbiosis created by this mix is both potent and effective.
CEELM: Do you have any plans to move back to the US?
Ted: No, although the US is a special place which remains a part of me. You can take the boy out of Illinois but you can’t take Illinois out of the boy.
CEELM: Outside of Hungary, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?
Ted: The entire Central European region has its great charms and magnetism. Strolling the medieval core of Poland’s Krakow, skiing the Tatra mountains of Slovakia, relishing the magical villages of Romania, relaxing in the spas of the Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary, absorbing the fairytale atmosphere of Slovenia’s Lake Bled and wandering the old quarter of Sarajevo all come to mind. Lately I have enjoyed exploring Croatia. In particular, I love the Austro-Hungarian vibe of Opatija on the Adriatic.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Budapest?
Ted: A classic five stars not-to-be-missed spot is the top of the Gellert Hill, with the stunning panorama of Buda, Pest, and the Danube stretched out below. There are other places that hold a personal resonance for me. The magnificent Eastern Train Station because it is the place where I often first arrived in Budapest. The 1906 statue of George Washington in the City Park because it symbolizes the longstanding ties between Hungary and the US. I also enjoy taking guests on a walking tour of the architecture of Budapest. I focus on the Hungarian State Opera and other compelling structures designed in the mid and late 19th century by Hungary’s renowned architect Miklos Ybl as well as on the masterpiece that is the Hungarian Parliament, designed during that same era by Imre Steindl. It is when walking in this great city that one can perhaps become most captivated by its beauty and its elegance.