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Alexandre Bertoldi: Every plan is a big bet

Pinheiro Neto Advogados’ managing partner discusses Brazil’s economic uncertainty, how technology is forcing lawyers out of their comfort zone, and why there is no magic formula for talent retention

How would you define your firm’s culture?

The most important thing in a firm is culture because it is a singular factor in these days of greater dissemination of knowledge and access to national and international good practices. We have a distinct culture because we are both traditional and modern at the same time, and we give importance to human and professional values. Around 99% of the partners and associates started here as trainees, so people have long been together and they know what to expect from each other. In our firm, ethical, and moral values are well established and a transparent environment is valued.

What’s the main change you’ve made that will benefit clients?

We are trying to make changes to streamline work and make it more efficient. This task involves two things: getting to know clients to understand what they need in each case and avoiding that issues pass through several internal processes, using more senior teams and partners to that end. We know that efficiency has always been an issue discussed among law firms because of rework and hourly work, and this is something that comes from the tendency of lawyers to exhaust all possible points in their cases.

What does innovation mean to you and how can firms be better at it?

If, on the one hand, innovation may refer to something not done yet, on the other hand it also means finding a more efficient way to accomplish a task already done. For law firms, innovation is closely related to implementing day-to-day technology to have greater productivity and information sharing. Innovation also means doing things in a different way, not only using technology, but also tapping into the knowledge we have built with the client to make things more fluid and rational. Law firms always had difficulty in benefiting from the relationship with their clients, because each case or issue was treated as unique and independent. In this way, you had to start from scratch in each of them. The great innovation is to see things in a holistic and integrated approach to benefit from the experience of each case.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms of your size in Brazil?

All law firms in Brazil face a great challenge, that is, the country’s economic uncertainty. This makes every plan to be a big bet. The challenge facing law firms is the ability to stand out in the crowd. We need to be able to show to clients that paying to be assisted by our law firm is worth it as we are delivering a unique work.

What do you think are the top three things most clients want and why?

The clients today want efficiency, low cost, and immediate answers. These aspects are fully understandable because they have to deal with budgets, justify internal expenses incurred with an external office, and are pushed on to obtain an answer as soon as possible.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Yes, technology is changing our lives as it has always been. We passed through telex, fax, email, and now WhatsApp. Technology makes the relationship more informal and, at the same time, more dangerous because you are not always given the chance to think about the answer for a while. This situation makes the lawyers step out of their comfort zone, where they are used to considering all angles and anticipate all possibilities.

What is way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

I do not think there is a magic formula. Retaining talent means being transparent, offering compatible remuneration, providing opportunities for growth, and acting in a way that goes with the things we say – walk the talk. If the firm loses credibility and takes hurried actions to obtain short-term benefits only, it is likely to suffer in the long run. Consistency in speech and soundness in practice, in addition to opening opportunities, recognising merits, avoiding manoeuvring for promotions, and providing market-compatible compensation are important measures to retain talents.

What are your firms policies on diversity and inclusion?

For us, these matters are very relevant, not only to pay heed to moral aspects or to meet an increasing demand from clients. We believe that as the business needs talents, they increase as you expand diversity and create a more inclusive environment. We have policies and committees to ensure that the recruitment process is fair and inclusive. For example, we are careful to recruit from colleges located in different geographic areas, and to join inclusion programs for disadvantaged classes.

Since becoming managing partner what’s surprised you most about running a firm?

It is a surprise by the day. A law firm is like any other business, but it requires greater skill to manage people. We deal with people who are not only extremely intelligent, but are also trained to argue. I am surprised every day to see how different viewpoints and interpretations exist for the same situation. This is fascinating.

How has your involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming managing partner?

Acting as a managing partner means being naturally absorbed by managerial work. So, today, I use my time mostly on issues related to office and client management. I serve a few long-time clients or those with whom I have a special relationship, but in general, I have contact with clients in more sensitive and strategic situations in which I work as a trusted advisor.

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise the ranks?

My advice would be to pay close attention to the environment in which you live, because things are fluid. You have to be more adaptable and less dogmatic. Managing a firm is completely different from practising law. Many times, it is important to understand that it is not worth winning every argument as we do in the practice of law to preserve a greater asset, that is, the interest of all. My tip is to practice resilience and develop adaptability and flexibility in all kinds of situations.