In this exclusive interview with Leaders League, Carsten Laschet and Barbara Mayer, managing partners at German firm Friedrich Graf von Westphalen & Partner, talk about how they serve Mittelstand (Mid-cap) companies at an international level, as well as the impact of legal tech.
Leaders League. It is quite unusual to see a mid-sized German firm like yours have such a significant international presence, isn’t it?
Carsten Laschet. Yes indeed. A large part of our client portfolio consists of Mittelstand (Mid-cap) companies who have placed their trust in us since the creation of our offices decades ago. In order to accompany their international expansion, it felt like a natural step for us to build a solid international network. Back in 1991, we opened an office in Brussels; we also have a separate office in Alicante, strong local cooperation in China, India, Brazil and Turkey, as well as many contacts throughout the world. Furthermore, our international reach has strengthened our position to advise investors from abroad seeking to acquire firms in Germany – from China and India as well as from European countries like Italy, France, Sweden or Switzerland.
As a matter of fact, at our firm’s core is the desire to offer partner-driven service, namely that our partners stay fully informed about, and always close to and available for, our clients, which is very much appreciated by them. We stick to this philosophy, while maintaining active communication among partners so as to provide high quality service in the domains where our clients have needs.
What is the advantage of your structure?
Apart from corporate/M&A, we work frequently on the claims side of product liability, manager liability and D&O insurance, always guided by the principle of steering clear of conflicts of interests. Anglo-Saxon firms or big national firms are quite often obliged to decline a case because of a conflict of interest, but we don’t have that concern, as we are a smaller outfit. This advantage has also helped us attract talent from prestigious firms. In 2017 in Frankfurt alone, we have recruited labor law partner Susanne Lüddecke who used to work at Taylor Wessing and Osborne Clarke, and Alik Dörn, who joined our real estate and public law practice from Bird & Bird, as well as copyright expert Stephan Dittl with his team from SALGER Rechtsanwälte. All of these top-level professionals came to join us because they value the importance of our philosophy: partners should work for the interests of their clients instead of under the pressure of pricing or controlling system.
Your firm has been serving Mittelstand clients since day one. How have the needs of your clients changed over the years, and how has your firm adapted?
Barbara Mayer. Mid-cap businesses are looking for legal advice that corresponds to their strategic approach. We are known for quick reactions, availability, a solution-oriented approach and creativity in legal thinking. In family owned businesses, you have to be on the same level as your client, which is the owner or general manager rather than a board or M&A manager. Of course the price structure is a decisive argument too. Large groups require a price-performance ratio which is proportional to the size of the deal for services carried out by partners. On the other hand, locations, the number of offices and the absolute size are increasingly less important today for mid cap clients.
As the biggest legal market in Europe, how well is Germany prepared for the impact of legal tech? More specifically, what has your firm done to make the most of legal tech?
There is a lot of hype about legal tech in Germany. But there is nothing new about it. It’s only the pace that has accelerated significantly. In all areas of service, e.g. legal due diligence, technical solutions play a major role in shaping the way lawyers work. On the client-side, we need to adapt to the high tech processes in the companies we work for. But apart from the tech hype we have to bear in mind that our clients ask for a very personal approach to advisory. When you talk to the owner of a mid-sized hidden champion, they want you to present your results personally – it is up to us to decide how much legal tech we use to achieve them.
Jeanne Yizhen Yin