fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Lale Defne Mete, CETINKAYA Law Firm, Partner

Interview with… Lale Defne Mete, CETINKAYA Law Firm, Partner

Tell us about your career choice and journey.

Since my early years in high school, I had a passion for social justice issues, the art of debate, and law as a discipline. How much I enjoyed my university education in law further affirmed the veracity of this direction.

I found private practice appealing in particular because of the independence it offers and its ever-evolving landscape. I quickly realized the competitive nature of this line of work kept me on my toes and motivated.

 Since you graduated in 2011, your career has been varied from starting at a leading Turkish law firm to moving in-house in 2016 to co-founding your own law firm in 2020. What prompted these changes and what were your motivations?

Starting at a leading law firm allowed me to get experience in a wide range of practice areas, thus, in turn, helping me recognize which practice areas I enjoyed most working on. Experiencing what the expectations are from an in-house attorney within a corporate environment was my primary motivation behind working as an in-house attorney. In contrast, co-founding allowed me to focus on the practice areas I was passionate about while establishing a work environment that aligned closely with my values and ideal work culture.

You worked as an in-house lawyer at Turkish Fortune 500 pharmaceutical manufacturer Deva Holding A.S. before co-founding CETINKAYA in 2020. What has been your experience as a woman working in both private practice and in-house environments?

Both private practice and in-house environments equipped me with different sets of skills. As an in-house lawyer, I got the opportunity to focus on a specific industry and topic for extended periods of time. In contrast, in my private practice, the variety of practice areas and the balancing act between business development while focusing on client work is a welcome challenge.

You completed a Masters of Law degree at Queen Mary University. Tell us about your experiences in London.

Studying in London was one of my best decisions early in my career. Studying at Queen Mary University gave me the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry, network in international legal circles, and focus on arbitration.

What are your reflections on the diversity and inclusion culture in the legal profession in Turkey?

Even though our industry fares better in terms of diversity and inclusion in comparison to most others, specific practice areas are still dominated by our male colleagues. At CETINKAYA, diversity, and inclusion play a pivotal role in structuring our team, promotion policy, and pay grades.

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

This is a priority we distinctly observe when working with our international clients. The most straightforward solution is not to be hesitant in bringing women into leadership roles and affording them the same support that our male colleagues benefit from. At this rate, I have no doubt we will be seeing more women in leadership roles in the legal industry.

 How is CETINKAYA Law Firm progressing with its diversity agenda?

At CETINKAYA, we believe diversity should be considered from a broader perspective, in addition to balancing the women-men ratio. In our recruitment processes, we prioritize personal experiences and potentials, rather than educational and cultural backgrounds. Women comprise 55 percent of our workforce at CETINKAYA. Although we believe this is a good starting point, we always strive to do better.

The unexpected death of Founding Partner Mr. Orçun Çetinkaya last year clearly had a profound and emotional impact on both yourself, the firm, and the wider Turkish legal business community. It is incredibly inspiring to see how you have managed to move forward since the tragedy. Can you talk to us about how you and the CETINKAYA law firm managed to cope with the tragedy?

To overcome this tragedy that had a weighty effect on us all, as a team, we chose to focus on our work and servicing our clients. I feel fortunate to have strong partners and I am proud of our team that proved itself to be resilient, hardworking and focused in the face of such adversity.

 If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?

I am not sure how successful I would have been, but I would have liked to have been a professional tennis player.

Which women have inspired you the most?

In my career journey I have been and keep being inspired by my peers, colleagues, and young practitioners, in particular, the hard-working, detail- oriented and creative women I get to work with on a daily basis.

What motivates you?

I particularly enjoy untangling complex legal cases one step at a time with persistence and creativity, and alongside a team, I thoroughly enjoy working with. Working with a team I trust and believe in is also a major motivator for me.

 In your career so far what achievements are you most proud of?

In my career, I am most proud of having co-founded a private practice where, along with our partners and team members, we got to define our own working model based on our values and priorities, and have clients that we are proud of working with.

How do you manage your current work/life balance?

I find that an imbalance between work and life is inevitable during busy periods, especially in our field. However, I see myself better managing this imbalance as I get more skilled in time management.

When you look back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to female students who are about to enter the legal industry?

I have the same advice for both male and female students: Finding your area of practice is akin to finding a musical instrument to play. I would advise them to get exposed to a variety of practice areas after which I trust they will naturally find their inclination towards one or a few.

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