fivehundred magazine > Interview with: Georg Frowein and Rainer Krause > Invent, move forward, collaborate

Invent, move forward, collaborate

Hengeler Mueller’s co-managing partners provide advice to the next generation of partners and explain why they shun the ‘straitjacket’ of branch networks

George Frowein and Rainer

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

Throughout the existence of Hengeler Mueller, we have preserved a close and cooperative culture within our partnership. We regard this as a very precious element of our firm and key to our success.

Most Hengeler Mueller partners spend their whole career at the firm. In a sense, we all grew up together here, professionally. A prime component within the partnership is our full lockstep model, which fosters a unique sense of family and joint sharing, and which helps to put the right minds together, collaborating at the right time.

We bring exceptional talent and experience together to best serve our clients: That is what we always strive to achieve and what we continue to be proud of.

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

We are not a top-down driven firm and therefore changes are not made by order of the management. Having said that, a key factor for the success of our practices is our integration of different practice groups.

In this regard, we as managing partners constantly seek to support and encourage the collaboration between the different practice areas of our firm and encourage our partners to cross borders, moving back and forth, bringing the right minds together at the right time: For instance, our corporate practice is closely linked with our M&A and capital market practices; indeed, our M&A and corporate lawyers are versatile and competent in both fields.

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

Most importantly, our clients want agile and quality-focused lawyers who are able to move fast and in creative ways.

Secondly, they want honest advice, also when the advice reveals that there are difficulties on the way forward: There will be instances where any good advisor must concede that there are no mitigants. Then we can help our clients by providing a reliable basis to make an informed decision, and work with our clients to navigate through the risks – being our clients’ trusted advisor in untested waters.

Thirdly, clients want their trusted advisors to think and offer coverage on a multinational basis. Our model for this is simple – we advise on headline international deals by leading unified, hand-picked teams of the best lawyers across the globe within our network of best friends firms.

By doing this, we believe that we are a cut above our competition because we are not constrained by a fixed, branch network and so we don’t have to cross-sell lawyers who may not be at the cutting edge and may not have the most textured feel for local needs and local regulation – we have the freedom to pick and lead the best team for the job. In other words, we don’t believe in the straitjacket and patchiness of branch networks.

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

Innovation is the ability to think ahead – a feel for new developments, taking new paths, defining new boundaries. This may be about how to respond to new legislation (on German investment control or data protection, for example), how to develop the best defense line in complex litigation, or about new corporate tools such as the scrip dividend in Germany.

We strongly believe that innovation is a key task for each individual working at Hengeler Mueller (and not only the management) – which fits extremely well into our firm culture fostering our approach of swarm intelligence.

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

New technology comes to us in many forms, it is a constant flow of innovation, some smaller and gradual, some larger and more radical. Through our Hengeler Mueller LegalTech Center, we watch, test, pilot, and adjust our tools almost all the time.

When it comes to information sharing and data analysis, technology has affected our business already and will continue to do so in the future. Today, we make heaps of information readily available, both client-related and know-how-related, which we constantly grow and harvest. However, a large part of our legal work transcends data analysis. What we do and sell is data- and fact-based judgment – it is mostly about allocation of risks, about the right thing to do in a particular situation, and the proper way to communicate.

What are your firm’s policies on diversity and inclusion?

Offering a diverse working environment is one of the key elements of our working culture. As for gender diversity, we have continued to develop our Best Friends Women’s Initiative, a joint initiative to promote female lawyers and strengthen the international network of our female lawyers.

Other measures to recruit and retain women at Hengeler Mueller in particular, both on a national and international level, have also proven to be highly effective and include the annual Hengeler Mueller Women’s Day, monthly meetings and the Best Friends Female Leadership Program to name just some of a multitude of networking events. We are also proud of our LGBT network (HM Pride).

Passion and determination alongside an excellent legal educational background are key factors for a successful career at Hengeler Mueller regardless of personal background, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. We are committed to provide our lawyers with the biggest possible freedom for personal development and to encourage creativity as well as individual initiative and responsibility.

We have also further enhanced our flexible working arrangements offering our lawyers a working environment that best suits their individual needs and personal circumstances. This now comprises a number of combinable flexible working arrangements open to female and male partners, counsel and associates, including part-time work, home office, sabbaticals, and parental leave.

How have your roles/involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming managing partners?

Not much to be honest – we continue to believe in a lean management and not too much interference of management with the desks of the individual partners. Our key task is to organise the swarm intelligence and thereby support the creativity for each individual lawyer at our firm to give his or her best at work. By doing this, we have not changed our role in client-facing work which accounts for about half of our working time.

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

Quite simple and straightforward: Always invent, always move forward, always collaborate. Be vibrant, make a mark. And choose the right platform (such as Hengeler Mueller) with a true ‘esprit de corps’ of partnership, generosity, and collaboration which not only allows you to grow professionally but also gives you inspiration and (most importantly) fun.

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

Recruiting and retaining highly qualified top-notch lawyers is a key challenge for any independent firm striving to constantly maintain the quality of its legal work and expertise. In a dynamic market, competition for talent is therefore our high-priority challenge. Following a successful onboarding, training is key for the retention of our young talents and an essential part of our routine.

One example: All incoming Hengeler Mueller associates are automatically registered at the University of St. Gallen, where we have designed a five-year programme for our associates focusing on law (as it is applied and needed in the real world), economics, and a broad range of soft skills. On completing the five-year programme, our associates receive a Diploma of Advanced Studies, which is equivalent to 50% of the Executive MBA. Why do we do that? Because it takes more than law to make a good lawyer.

We are committed to absolute standards of service to our clients. We want our lawyers to understand the way our clients think, to see the broader context, and to be fully aware of the consequences of what we contribute.