fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Att. Sezen Ergen Breitegger, LL.M., Founding Partner, Breitegger – Develioglu Law Firm

Interview with… Att. Sezen Ergen Breitegger, LL.M., Founding Partner, Breitegger – Develioglu Law Firm

What was it that made you want to become a lawyer? 

Having an impact in the society we live in has always mattered to me, even when I was very young. As a woman with a sense of agency; being able to take my own decisions, contribute personally to changes in the society and my passion for reading have been the main sources of my interest for becoming a lawyer. Further more, it is one of the few professions allowing its practitioners to combine academic interest with the practicality of the business life and I find this very intriguing. I remember having a great feeling of improvement after having studied the first year of law school, as it was filled with extremely interesting topics such as philosophy of law, Roman law and many others that actually explain why we do things the way do them even to this day. The ability to use this daily in my profession gives me a sense of fulfillment and I realize that I became a lawyer for the right reasons for myself.  

Since you graduated, your career has been varied from being the head of the Turkish Desk at a leading law firm in Vienna, Austria to now managing your own practice in Turkey. What prompted these changes and what were your motivations? 

Pursuing an international career has been a main drive in most of what I did as a student and as a lawyer. As a polyglot, I also wanted to learn German, explore a different culture and study abroad, therefore I pursued my LL.M. degree at the University of Vienna. This was followed by my position as the head of Turkish Desk in a reputed law firm in Vienna as I also wanted to experience work culture in Austria. Studying in a foreign country and working in a foreign country are actually two completely diverse experiences and they both broadened my horizon tremendously. 

Throughout my years in Vienna, as I was representing mainly foreign investors in Turkey, I have seen the need for a specialized law firm for such clients. Therefore, we decided to establish Breitegger-Develioglu Law Firm with my partner Burçin Yıldırım Develioğlu. We wanted to create our own culture in the legal world, carve our own path. Of course, there were already law firms serving foreigg investors in the Turkish market but we had the vision of a boutique law firm with a closer connection to its clients; a law firm that would become the trusted partners of its clients by supporting them with sharp legal knowledge that is communicated and tailored according to their needs. We had made the decision to become partners while studying and working together beforehand. Once we saw that such a law firm was needed, we acted on it immediately and established our firm. 

You have been at Breitegger – Develioglu Law Firm as its founding partner since 2014. What have been your personal highlights of how the firm has developed both locally and internationally? 

It was a great journey for me to see that I could reflect my international experience into our firm. In a very short period of time, we started to deal with very exciting international, as well as local, deals and cases. On another point, not only we represented our clients in major international arbitration cases, we also did it in different forms. It was definitely a highlight for me to perform a fully virtual arbitration hearing with international arbitrators, witnesses and colleagues during the pandemic. Being able to lead a major investment project in Turkey that will enable Turkey to produce a high technology product was also a personal highlight for me. Becoming trusted attorneys of several foreign chambers of commerce shows me that we are following the path we aimed for. This year was also important for us as we have been named as a leading firm for Commercial, Corporate and M&A in Turkey by Legal 500 and it was great to see that our efforts are being recognized.  

Your areas of expertise include intellectual property law, corporate law and dispute resolution. Can you tell me a bit more about your decision to take on these practice areas when you started out as a lawyer? And what is the size and scope of your current role amongst these areas at Breitegger – Develioglu Law Firm? 

As I mentioned, I find it fascinating that law allows you to translate academic research into practical business life. Being a corporate and commercial lawyer never gets boring as you get to meet so many interesting business people, so many impressive companies and you are not limited to one sector. I always take interest in what our clients are actually doing businesswise in order to be able to structure their deals; law is only efficient if it is carefully tailored according to the very special needs of a business. Dispute resolution, especially arbitration, allows me to examine and overcome conflicts that arise out of those same business relations. Without knowing the potential challenges that might come up in the future, you cannot be a good corporate lawyer. These two goes hand in hand. Therefore, I believe our experience in corporate law and M&A strengthens dispute resolution practices and vice versa. Dispute resolution entails also corporate law as we do a lot of international arbitration for corporate and commercial disputes as well as intellectual property. As for intellectual property, I believe that innovation finds its source in creative people and creative people should get the support they need to move us forward. Standing by them, witnessing new inventions gives me a personal satisfaction. On a more personal note, I also enjoy our intellectual property practice as I am an art lover. I take great pleasure discussing their art with my clients. Luckily I can spend most of my time in those 3 areas that I am quite passionate about.  

How would you define the culture at Breitegger – Develioglu Law Firm? 

Seeking professional and academic excellence while maintaining very good relations with our clients and within our firm is what defines our firm. We give utmost importance to perfection in our legal services as well as our communication and mutual understanding with our clients. We do stand by  them and we do care about their businesses. Our approach is to be involved in our clients’ deals and cases on partner level and to make sure that they know that we handle their cases personally and diligently. Our clients know that they can reach us, that we will be there for them and that they can trust us.  

We see ourselves also as cultural ambassadors as we “speak” many cultural languages in our firm. To excel in the international area, you must know your legal system well, but you must also lead your clients culturally in your country as well. I believe that we manage this successfully in our firm.  

Our culture in the firm also entails that we support each other as a team to the fullest and make sure that we do our best for our employees to fulfill their potential.

In addition to the recruitment drive your firm has with diverse lawyers, does Breitegger – Develioglu Law Firm get involved in other diversity-related activities? 

As Breitegger-Develioglu Law Firm, we make sure to put women in positions of power in our law firm. We also mentor our employees to a level that would enable them to be able to lead their own firms in the future. Personally mentoring young women is very empowering and we are doing this extensively on partner level. Knowledge is more valuable when it is shared, we do our best to share our experiences with the younger generation. We keep on mentoring our former employees on their new ventures as well. Scholarships are also offered to students from our part.  

With clients valuing diversity in their external law firms, how do we get more women into leadership roles in law firms? 

Law firms have the power to create change on a societal level and therefore carry the responsibility of being pioneers for improvement. Decision makers would have to question themselves while hiring and leading their employees and become aware how their decisions are being influenced by the society. I also believe that more integrative and flexible maternity leave models should be introduced for women to be able to move forward with their career while maintaining a family.  

Can you talk about any positive trends or changes in the diversity landscape you are seeing emerge within the Turkish legal market?  

Seeing many more women partners and law firms owned by women as well as high level legal managers within corporations has been a positive change within Turkish legal market. Having more women partners has also become a source of pride for law firms, which I find very positive.  

Can you name a woman who’s inspired you the most during your career? 

Christine Lagarde has always been a source of inspiration for me as she has the stamina that comes with excelling in what you are doing. On top, she has managed an international career as a foreigner in U.S.A. and is giving encouraging messages for working women. My mother lead me in my way and set a great example for me as an engineer, she also did have to fight the odds to be a working mother within Turkish society back then. I am so glad and thankful to her that she did that. Lastly my partner Burçin Yıldırım Develioglu inspires me on a daily basis with her wit, intellectual capacity and her skills as a lawyer, I feel proud to be partners with her.  

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated? 

First of all, I feel responsible as a woman partner to carve and maintain a path for the next generation. I know that the challenges I face will become experiences that next generation lawyers will be able to learn from. Second of all, mental motivation is incredibly important to me. As reading is my passion, I do read a lot of psychology books and do prepare myself mentally and emotionally on a regular basis. Our profession comes with many challenges, which actually become your stepping stones to where you want to go if you know how to handle hardships.  

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capacity?  

It gives me a great satisfaction to have started this journey as two young women and against all odds, being able to grow our firm and bring it to an international standing point in a much shorter time than we had anticipated. Being listed as a leading Corporate, Commercial and M&A firm on Legal 500 has been definitely a great achievement for us, as we also received a lot of excellent testimonials from our clients. As a law firm owner, I see achievements in a more holistic way. Of course having won major cases and having led major international deals are also an essential part of our achievements, but we are mainly very satisfied with our client relationships and to see proven that what we wanted to offer was actually needed very much in the market. Furthermore, the trust culture we developed within the law firm especially with our employees is another great achievement for me personally.  

Our firm is actually a professional and personal achievement for us as we managed to navigate our business through challenging times and situations while maintaining our close friendship. On a more personal note, it gives me great satisfaction that children of our clients decided to study law and become lawyers after having seen our firm and how we work.  

When you look back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to young female students who are about to embark on a law career in Turkey? 

Being a lawyer comes in many shapes and there are a variety of options when it comes to how to practice law. I would suggest to younger lawyers that they should seek in their first years to find the best path that matches their personality and their skill sets. Being a lawyer is hard and to perform it well, you need to be professionally and mentally ready. Not giving up and not taking no for an answer when they have a vision that they truly believe in is also crucial for young women as they will face many obstacles on their career paths. Women question themselves on an extensive basis, we should all trust ourselves and move forward in our careers. Seeking mentors is also extremely helpful and I encourage young women lawyers to reach out to us and other female lawyers, where they need support.  

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