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The Corner Office: Mentors

The Corner Office: Mentors

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In The Corner Office we ask Managing Partners across Central and Eastern Europe about their unique roles and responsibilities. The question this time around: Who was your mentor, and what was the most important lesson you learned from him or her?

Ron Given, Co-Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss Poland

“I started practicing law in Chicago in 1978 (OMG!!!) and have been blessed with many fine mentors. Although the years inevitably make one a bit sentimental, the 80’s and 90’s were in fact a special time in the States for our profession and I think I had the lucky fortune of experiencing first hand some of the ‘finest generation’ of our craft.

One mentor does, though, really stand out. His name is Bob Helman. Although long ‘retired,’ he still comes to the office most days and I will have the pleasure of having lunch with him when I am home in September. Bob headed up the Corporate group when I joined Mayer Brown and later became its Chairman for many years.

He was a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ in so many ways. I learned more from him just sitting in his office listening to him work the phone with clients (those were pre-email days) than I have with most other people. If he got involved he always came to play with everything he had in him – people referred to him as the master of the ‘full court press’ for those who understand the game of basketball. No matter what stress, pressure, and chaos might be going on around him, he was calm, respectful to all (even the most junior of lawyers, like me), and maintained a relentless focus on the best interests of the client. And through it all he remained in good humor, positive, and enthusiastic. His passion and love of lawyering were infectious and helped everyone keep our chins up during whatever forced march we might be on at the moment. 

On top of everything else, and most importantly, he was a role model for me; someone I said, to my much younger self, that I wanted to be like one day. And not just as a lawyer, but as a human being, e.g., the way he interacted with his family, his other social, cultural, and recreational activities and interests, and what not. I am always preaching this creed to the partners I work with these days: that we are falling short if we don’t conduct ourselves in our totality in such a way that our associates would like to emulate. We may not achieve this goal every day (I certainly do not!), but we need to remember that being a good mentor is more than just being a good lawyer. You need to be a good person, as well.”   

Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Prague

“Actually, I never had any mentor. But from today’s point of view, I believe that my father, Erhard Hanslik, who was an independent lawyer in Vienna, had a great influence on me. Growing up in a family of lawyers (both my grandfather and my father were lawyers), you come into contact with the profession from a very young age. I admired the way my father treated his clients. He was not only a lawyer for them, but in many cases a friend – or even a psychiatrist. Very often clients made payments in kind. Although we lived on the outskirts of Vienna, my father managed to come home for lunch and dinner, which we always had together. At that time, this was totally normal for me. Now, I know that this is a luxury, which I cannot offer to my family.”  

Erika Papp, Managing Partner, CMS Hungary

“Out of all the great lawyers I’ve known, my mentor was the first lawyer I knew best: my grandfather, Laszlo Jona. The son of a farmer, he was a young lawyer during the Communist takeover and forced to work as a manual laborer. But he never abandoned his dream of returning to the law, and in the 1960s he was able to practice again. Not surprisingly, his years of adversity made him a better lawyer. These trials gave him empathy. And compassion. And most of all, wisdom. He had a talent for helping disputing parties find common ground. He became one of the most respected lawyers in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen. Always smiling, he was loved by his clients for his passion and optimism. Out of all the things he taught me, it is these two qualities – passion and optimism – that I try to emulate every day.”  

Alina Popescu, Founding Partner, Maravela | Asociatii

“Although I had to learn from quite a few people in my career (and still do), the one person who had the greatest impact so far is undoubtedly my fellow Co-Founding Partner Gelu Maravela from MPR Partners (Maravela, Popescu & Roman). Out of his many qualities as a mentor, maybe the most important is his patience in working with very young lawyers and courage to let them fly by entrusting them with very important matters. Another precious quality to be “stolen” from Gelu is an outstanding determination and force to see any matter through to completion, no matter the size of the obstacles ahead. Additionally, Gelu has an incredible talent for client care and project management that one is only lucky to learn. As these traits are not part of a normal lawyer’s backpack and few people possess them, they provide an incredible competitive edge to any trainee in the legal profession (or indeed in any other profession).”

Pavel Hristov, Managing Partner, Hristov & Partners

“Mentors: Roman Tarlavski, CMS Netherlands and Robert Hayhurst, CMS CEE/Budapest. One characteristic both Roman and Robert shared – in addition to being among the most accomplished dealmakers in their respective markets – was that each had a disciplined, patient, and structured approach to the deal-making process, from first contact with the client to the successful closing and integration of the combined businesses. I hope I have developed in myself at least a fraction of that structured approach.” 

Mykola Stetsenko, Co-Managing Partner, Avellum

“My mentor was James Hitch, the Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie Kyiv. I spent almost eight years working with him shoulder to shoulder and watched him handle all sorts of situations one can imagine. His calm and measured approach to handling difficult situations and personalities is what I admired in him most of all. James retired in December 2010.”   

This Article was originally published in Issue 5.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.