Full-service law firm Lenz & Staehelin: Pragmatic, high-quality work at the height of the pandemic

Lenz & Staehelin is one of the top full-service law firms in Switzerland, with over 200 lawyers across Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne. Managing partners Stefan Breitenstein and Guy Vermeil outline how the firm swiftly adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic while maintaining the quality of its work and its client service.

Posted Thursday, January 28th 2021
Full-service law firm Lenz & Staehelin: Pragmatic, high-quality work at the height of the pandemic

Guy Vermeil & Stefan Breitenstein

“Our firm is proud to have lent a helping hand during such a difficult period.“

LEADERS LEAGUE: How did Lenz & Staehelin handle the Covid-19 pandemic?

Stefan Breitenstein & Guy Vermeil: The first and second (semi-)lockdowns were challenging events for the firm in many ways. We were fortunate to have insight and advice from clients and friends based in Shanghai, so we significantly strengthened our IT system in January and February. We installed more powerful servers, increased the power of connecting lines between offices, and went from 80 Citrix licences to 380 licences. This was to allow nearly all our personnel to work remotely. Still, it was questionable early on whether the IT system would have the capacity to support the entire firm simultaneously accessing the servers remotely, particularly in view of having little to no time to test it live beforehand! When the Swiss government first strongly recommended working from home, we organised shifts allowing more than 50% of the firm to work remotely. When the first full lockdown came shortly thereafter, in mid-March, the transition to home offices went very smoothly and gave our lawyers and personnel the ability to continue their work seamlessly.The firm was also quick to get involved in a special pro bono Covid task force chaired by Patrick Odier, a senior partner at Bank Lombard Odier & Cie. Our first mission was to help the cantons source personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves and other medical equipment. More than 15 professionals from various sectors were involved in this pro bono project, and we continue to remain active today.The task force organized the use of two full Swiss Boeing 777 airplanes to bring supplies to Switzerland. We also allocated four members of our firm on a 100% basis to the Geneva University Hospitals for three months.They assisted the team of Professor Didier Pittet, who was charged with monitoring the pandemic. Among other tasks, the team also helped to purchase an industrial mask machine that is starting to manufacture masks in Geneva for the Geneva University Hospitals. Our firm is very proud to have lent a helping hand during such a difficult period.From a business perspective, we, like many businesses, had quite pessimistic forecasts in March, anticipating a reduction in turnover by 20-30%. That turned out not be the case, however, as our lawyers have kept very busy throughout the entire year, and we now will see better results than originally expected for 2020.Several new matters linked to the Covid-19 pandemic have also kept, and are keeping, the firm busy. Among others, we have been involved in Chapter 11 restructuring, local restructurings under Swiss law, and a number of new financings to help companies better manage their business during the crisis.Of course, all the efforts we made to continue delivering services to our clients would have been for nothing if we did not ensure the well-being of our staff. It was vital that we kept staff informed, safe, and supported in the Covid-19 environment.Firm-wide communications went out regularly, partners and department heads checked in with staff on work and non-work matters, flexible scheduling allowed staff to balance home and work life, reminders were given about available health professionals and counselling services, masks and hand sanitizer were distributed, and working conditions in the office were made safe. These are some of the concrete steps we took – and continue to take – to protect our personnel.

 

What makes Lenz & Staehelin different in the Swiss market?

Among the largest Swiss law firms, Lenz & Staehelin is probably the only firm organised as a full partnership, with partners having unlimited liability. The animus societatis is very strong, with all partners being fully committed to delivering pragmatic and high-quality work. Furthermore, our compensation system is 100% lockstep.Geographically, Lenz & Staehelin has offices in three locations, with an equal presence in Zurich and Geneva (with approximately 100 lawyers in each city). Our Lausanne office is also growing, with more than 10 lawyers today and plans to move to larger premises in 2021.

 

The Swiss legal market is both mature and competitive. What type of evolution do you foresee?

The competition is very strong and clients are more and more sensitive to costs. To continue to grow in today’s market, efficiency is key: this means producing very high-quality work swiftly and at competitive prices. To that end, we are continuing to improve and expand our internal knowledge base. We have hired and trained lawyers who are now 100% dedicated to monitoring developments and enhancing our knowledge base.AI and digitalisation also will be key in the next decade. In this respect, the firm invests substantially in IT and software to ensure our capacity to incorporate new technologies into our workflows.Another key factor in our firm’s evolution is the people we are able to hire and retain. We continue to focus on bringing in bright, versatile, high-achieving and multi-talented graduates from law school. Our well-known and competitive summer program remains a valuable source for new talent. Training is equally important, and we are constantly developing our internal training program so that it is responsive to the needs of the newest generation of lawyers and serves as a further strong incentive to join, and remain, a part of our team, rather than that of the competition.

“We invest substantially in IT with a view to incorporating new technologies into our workflows.”

What are the firm’s priorities over the next couple of years?

Our priorities will be to listen to our clients’ needs; remain accessible, flexible and agile so that we can adapt to a changing environment; and continue to focus on delivering pragmatic advice. We will continue to develop and improve our internal knowledge base, modernise IT systems, and ensure that our strategy is in line with future developments, such as leveraging blockchain technology.