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Carolina Zang: Innovation is an attitude, it’s the new lifestyle

Zang, Bergel & Viñes Abogados’s managing partner discusses the need to think big, why diversity is the new cultural norm, and why managing people can be the biggest challenge

How would you define your firm’s culture? How important is firm culture to you?

Firm culture is extremely important. In fact, it is absolutely critical to business performance, hiring, retention, and innovation. After many years of promoting the best work policies and putting together an amazing team, we have established a very strong culture in our firm based on meritocracy, which indicates growth and an upward dynamic. We rely on an impressive force of teamwork characterised by a high level of engagement and passion for our profession and most especially for our clients. Our culture is defined by meaningful work and mutually beneficial relationships.

I truly believe that diversity is the new culture. Every life experiences that each lawyer or employee brings to the organisation, is what makes ZBV so successful. Our core company values are the foundations of our culture, which is rich in feedback. Feedback is great for so many reasons and fostering a culture of feedback is crucial to the success of every organisation.

We have implanted a gaming app, which is an employee experience platform designed to bring organisational culture to life. The constant vertical and horizontal feedback empowers all of our lawyers to become the best version of themselves. Everyone is a significant contributor to our culture. It doesn´t just dangle from the partners downward, but it is ignited and embedded from all the ranks.

You mention diversity. What are your firm’s policies on diversity and inclusIon?

ZBV is built upon certain fundamental values that are deemed critical to the success of the firm. Diversity and integration are evermore a sense of the basis of our corporate culture. And this is very much reflected in the elevated percentage of female partners in the firm and the overall parity achieved. Currently, 36% of ZBV partners are women, a gender ratio well above the market average. And 58% of people in leadership positions at ZBV are women.

The incorporation of women partners has been a tremendous asset in the leadership and management of the firm, and also an incentive to the younger ranks of lawyers. As an organisation, we are dedicated to recruiting talented independent thinkers, with the courage and confidence in their own ability to deviate from the consensus and provide original and out of the box solutions.

In our staffing, we make it a requirement to always interview both male and female candidates, offering equal opportunities in terms of positions and salaries. ZBV embraces diversity and equal opportunity in a serious way. We are committed to building a team that represents a variety of backgrounds, perspectives and skills. We are aware that the more inclusive we are, the better our work and the overall performance of the Firm will be.

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

Every single decision we make takes our clients into account as top priority. They are at the centre of our business strategy and culture.

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

Innovation is an attitude, it’s the new lifestyle. It encourages us to think bigger all the time. We have established a culture of smart collaboration at ZBV that gives way to huge innovations. As part of an initiative called ‘ZBV 2022’, we have launched a series of expositions for our lawyers conducted by mentors from diverse backgrounds, who prepare the firm for the coming age of artificial intelligence.

We also have a ZBV Innovation Committee which consistently presents new ideas and proposals on how to further enhance the ratio of female talent in law firms, as well as other minority groups. This new committee is a fountain of innovation and permanent motivation, and helps us prepare the partners of the future. This year, just recently, we have innovated with a new department, named the ZBV Go To Desk. Basically it is comprised of young students from different careers who support our lawyers internally and provide research and tools to improve work processes and enhance efficiency. They have a ready-for-anything versatility and help us thing outside of the box. I believe it is crucial for all legal firms to innovate, as do companies from all other industries. It takes innovation to survive.

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

Being in the mid-sized market, it is especially challenging to conduct a firm in a country as economically and politically unsteady as Argentina. The constant changes forces all leaders to have a keen mind, a sharp strategic vision, and a spot on market analysis that will enable stability despite all the difficulties and external situations that have not encouraged or given way to successful business models in Argentina.

The legal mid-sized market in Buenos Aires is rather large and it is hard to forge a path to the top of the field. But we have managed to do so through strong marketing initiatives, solid brand construction, and strikingly bold innovations.

It has also been a real challenge to construct and maintain the firm’s reputation at an international scale. Exposure abroad was difficult to attain at first because in our market there are too many players, but eventually our merits were made evident and we got on the world map quickly and we work to keep on the international radar.

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

The most important thing clients need and want is to know that we are there for them. They need us to build trust and be their allies, because making big decisions is very hard and can be very lonely. When the time comes, they want to feel that we are there, supporting them, cheering them on and resolving any issue that may arise. Clients don’t want to feel lonesome, they want us to be on their team.

Furthermore, clients the world over want added value, want their lawyer to be more like a business partner, and want creative solutions. The key to client retention is a constant adaptability to their changing needs, and our ability to drive growth through insightful, strategic solutions, and an innovative, omni-channel approach to every challenge.

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

Technology is definitely changing the way our lawyers interact internally and how we interact with our clients as well. While at first this change was occurring gradually, we are picking up speed more and more every day and adopting new tools to improve our service. There’s certainly a lot of attention on technology and the law nowadays and we have installed new apps and gaming techniques to step onto the podium.

What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

Empathy and listening skills are key when it comes to retaining talent. Being able to listen and understand associates’ needs, whatever they may be, is a huge first step towards respect and inclusion. And even though this may seem simple, it actually implies thinking big and thinking creatively. Empathy is the basis of mutually beneficial relationships, and a stepping-stone to properly process what a professional truly needs.

Another factor that aids in talent retention in my experience is trust. Confidence goes both ways and you need to trust in order to be trusted. Associates will stay if they trust you and feel trusted in return. And of course they always appreciate it when we strive to make them stand out as rising stars.

Flexibility is yet another way to retain talent at any level. Workplace flexibility has become a must-have perk. Millennials and Gen Zs are very focused on how to make the workplace better for everyone, regardless of age and rank, and they strive to make the firm is flexible, tech-enabled, and inclusive of all types of people and work styles.

At ZBV we are in fact very flexible and attend to the needs of all our collaborators. We have a ‘ZBV Flexi-Friday’ programme, which gives associates one half-day off a month. We offer extended maternity leave and a two-week paternity leave without a salary reduction (while the Argentine law only offers men two days off at their child´s birth). We have home office, part-time, some days per week part-time, everyday flex-time, once per week off, etc. But ultimately it all comes down to an equal equation of give and take.

Our culture of meritocracy is an ideal barometer to determine the extent of our flexibility. As the culture of merit-based employment and retention flourishes at the firm, our lawyers strive to offer their best, are extra motivated and appreciate the fairness in their evaluations. For ZBV, meritocracy is the way to attract and retain top talent.

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

Everyone would recurrently alarm me with a ‘just wait and see, I’m warning you that people are the biggest challenge’. At first I thought I completely understood this, as it seemed pretty obvious, and I just took it for granted. But then, over the course of the years I truly learned and understood what everyone meant. There are as many realities as there are people, and things happen to people all the time. Sometimes they want and they can, sometimes they want and they can’t, other times they can’t but they don’t want. The spectrum of human possibilities and combinations is infinite. This turned out to be a big surprise.

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

I feel like I timidly entered the world of business partners. What it all comes down to at the end of the day is that we are also a provider, in our case offering professional services.

Finally, what advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise the ranks?

I would mention three attributes that I deem essential: team capability building, listening skills, and the ability to embrace change. To empower people you have to know them. To know them, you have to listen to them and care. And when you receive their input you have to be ready and brave enough to generate change. Nowadays you can reinvent anything and innovate all the time. You just have to go for it. And if you thing changing is hard, try not changing!