Management

“GvW is now a fully integrated law firm. This is something we are particularly proud of”

It seems a long time ago that the financial crisis was sweeping the world, Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States and Germany’s Liberal and Christian Democrats formed a new coalition government. All this happened 12 years ago, which coincides with the first time that Christof Kleinmann and Dr Robert Theissen were appointed Managing Partners of GvW Graf von Westphalen. They are still in office today, but the firm has continuously evolved and developed. So this seems a good time to reminisce and ask some questions.

“GvW is now a fully integrated law firm. This is something we are particularly proud of”

Would you have accepted your appointment if you had known in 2009 that you would still hold this office over a decade later?

Of course, we could not foresee this at the time. In retrospect, the answer is yes, we would have stood for election, because the role of Managing Partner at GvW still makes us happy after all these years.

And why is it that you are still so happy in this role?

Firstly, we are surrounded by a team of wonderful people – from apprentice to Partner. Secondly, after all this time we still have big plans for the firm’s further development and expansion. Thirdly, we feel the undiminished trust of the partnership and their willingness to continue this journey with us. Trust is something absolutely fundamental, because managing a successful law firm means making decisions some of which may not be liked by everybody. Being in a position to shape things is a challenge, but can also be very rewarding at times. As long as we feel supported by the people in our firm and think that we can make a difference, we are very happy in this role.

A law firm undergoing constant change seems to be a fitting description of the past decade. What were the key milestones during this period?

Specialisation (in relation to both industry sectors and areas of law) in a matrix-type organisation has been and continues to be a central issue. Another important focus is cooperation across offices and specialist areas. Both can only be done in an integrated law firm. It is of course the nature of integration that it is a process that will never be complete. However, we are pleased to see that entire teams of professionals choose consciously to join us as lateral hires because of the open yet managed culture we have at our firm.

"We are much freer now in terms of what assignments we acquire and how we handle them"

The opening of our new offices in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart were further milestones for GvW. We now have a presence in all major business cities across Germany. Given that our client base includes many export-oriented medium-sized enterprises, the investment in our Shanghai and Istanbul offices is also paying off more and more.

The transformation of our firm into a partnership carrying on a trade or business for German tax purposes was as much a challenge as a crossroad in our journey. In the first place, it took a lot of convincing within the firm. But it was well worth it: we are much freer now in terms of what assignments we acquire and how we handle them. All this effort is already paying off, especially in the context of the ongoing debate about digitalisation.

What is striking is that the firm has also grown its headcount significantly over the last year.

To be able to advise clients on all matters of commercial law with a focus on their particular industry, we have complemented the range of areas we can cover more and more over the past few years. Logistics, telecommunications and aviation law are but a few more recent examples we would like to mention here. To us, growth has never been an end in itself but rather a logical consequence of our evolution into a full-service law firm that is able to serve clients in every niche. To achieve this, we have relied both on fresh input brought by professionals joining the firm from outside and on our own home-grown talents. It is not rare that we see up-and-coming lawyers of our firm pick a new subject area and build an expertise in it.

"To us, growth has never been an end in itself"

Our entire infrastructure has also grown over the years. We now have full teams to take care of finance, HR, IT, legal tech and legal operations, digital transformation, marketing or sales. It was an important step to professionalise these activities within our firm. But without the organisation skills and great support of our assistants we would not be able to deliver our services anyway.

"Mutual trust is the essential ingredient to successful leadership. We have felt this level of trust whenever we had discussions about details within the firm in the past years"

How have you managed to successfully align and engage people at GvW behind the decisions you made?

Mutual trust is the essential ingredient to successful leadership. We have felt this level of trust whenever we had discussions about details within the firm in the past years. We strive to keep our communication transparent at all times, although this is becoming increasingly challenging due to the size that our firm has grown to and the fact that it now has six locations across Germany. Although we have professionalised our management, too, the Partners meeting is and remains our main management body. This is where we have open discussions about all subjects and jointly initiate the necessary steps to develop our firm. However, the Partners of our firm are not the only source of new initiatives. Experience has shown that everybody at GvW is strongly committed to the firm and strives to move things forward. We are very appreciative and supportive of such efforts.

On the other hand, it is clearly not always possible to get everybody on the same page. But there are some principles on which our partnership cannot and will not compromise. These include our firm’s culture of teamwork and collaboration across practice groups and offices. People who are unable or unwilling to follow this course are ultimately not a good fit for our firm and will end up leaving sooner or later.

What does GvW stand for today?

Today, and actually for quite some time, GvW has blossomed into a fully integrated law firm working at a high level of expertise. This makes us particularly proud. This is also what enables us to act as a one stop shop with highly specialised knowledge in helping clients with their problems. Another key strength of our firm is courage to explore new avenues. Everyone with ideas and aspirations is welcome to contribute.

"We do not see digitalisation as a threat to jobs"

How does GvW respond to increasing digitalisation?

Digitalisation allows us to provide highly specialised legal advice even more efficiently. We are therefore open to everything that increases our productivity further. We are already using a number of these technologies; we promote standardised processes and are in the process of building the appropriate structures. However, this process is complex and will not be complete anytime soon. We will use new digital solutions whenever they increase the satisfaction of our clients. This is and remains our top priority when it comes to deciding which innovative technologies and processes to adopt. In any case, the decision we took in 2019 to transform of our firm into a partnership carrying on a trade or business for German tax purposes has opened the doors for us to completely new business models.

We do not see digitalisation as a threat to jobs. Our demand for qualified people will remain unaffected.

You are raising an important point here: the scarcity of qualified human resources is already palpable in many sectors of the economy. The prospects for the legal market are not too bright either.

This is exactly the reason why it is important to us that our people like their job. A job that is not enjoyable is not a good job.

To succeed as a firm, we not only need to attract the best people but also need to retain them. Our firm’s open culture helps us to do this. Nevertheless, we also must ask ourselves constantly what makes us attractive as an employer. Applicants’ expectations change from one generation to another and we need to remain agile in response to them.

"Apart from that, we want to fulfil our responsibility as a commercial law firm and as an employer"

What are your goals for the firm over the next ten years?

Our goal is to strengthen GvW’s position as one of Germany’s leading medium-sized law firms. This naturally includes the business success of our company. As long as we remain able to recognise the changing needs of our clients as early as possible and respond to them appropriately, we have every reason to be optimistic about the future.

Apart from that, we want to fulfil our (social) responsibility as a commercial law firm and as an employer. This is important to all of us at GvW and has always been part of how we define ourselves.

Our references

Whether it is a major infrastructure project, an international M&A transaction or a large trial - our lawyers have been able to handle interesting mandates in recent years.