fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Pelin Baysal, Founding partner, Baysal & Demir

Interview with… Pelin Baysal, Founding partner, Baysal & Demir

Tell us about your career choice and journey. What inspired you to become a lawyer? 

When I was a child, I wanted to be a flight stewardess. My dream was to see other countries and continents. Then at some point, I watched a movie where I first saw a young female litigator at the courthouse. She was a powerful figure, finding different solutions to weird problems and explaining the things people could or could not do. In retrospect, I now know that what she was saying was probably all wrong. But I liked it then. I said I wanted to know the law and become a lawyer. Luckily, by becoming a lawyer and providing legal assistance to global companies or taking part in international disputes, I also realised my dream of seeing other countries and continents.  

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

Women in Turkey have been acting as lawyers since the establishment of the Turkish Republic – for nearly 100 years. At this point, we should remember Turkey’s first women lawyer Süreyye Ağaoğlu with respect who was admitted to Bar in 1928. Unfortunately, the legal profession is still culturally male-dominated in Turkey. All of the big law firms were founded and managed by men, although there are female partners. These big law firms still follow authoritarian/patriarchal management styles, and this situation hampers pluralism and diversity in the workplaces. Until recent years, young lawyers were not included in client meetings and communications. Young lawyers and young law firms are trying to remove this archaic structure and together take steps for diversity. Besides, recently gender diversity has been supported by global clients and international law firms, instructing Turkish law firms.   

How is Baysal & Demir progressing with its diversity agenda? 

Since the establishment of Baysal & Demir, we are committed to creating and maintaining an environment that consistently attracts, retains, and inspires a diverse array of talented individuals. We understand diversity and inclusion to encompass all differences among people, such as gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, culture, and disability. We foster an inclusive working environment where each person can reach their full potential. 

In contrast to big law firms, we do not have an autocratic/patriarchal structure. Our goal is to establish a workplace based on equality and freedom principles with a pluralistic approach. We believe that success comes from giving talented and motivated lawyers space to perform their work, not from thick manuals or excessive hours.  

The international nature of our work means that diversity and inclusion are – in addition to being important values in their own right – imperative to our success.  Insights gained not only from our international clientele but also from our individual talent go to the very heart of our clients’ issues in different industries and geographies. 

Our diversity and inclusion goals remain a work in progress, as we recognise there is always more to be done across our firm and our industry. 

How do you define the culture at Baysal & Demir? 

Having worked for international clients for many years, we believe that what international clients are most interested in is something different from what they are getting from big law firms. 

In big law firms, each task is generally assigned to large legal teams. The partner’s involvement in these tasks is usually limited to a final review and each associate working on the task is only seeing a portion of it, preventing them from understanding the whole picture. 

What sets us apart at Baysal & Demir is dedicated small legal teams with close partner involvement at all stages. Our partners are not final reviewers. They have substantial, direct and continuous involvement at all stages of each project and/or dispute handled by the firm. Each of our associates grasps the entirety of the project/dispute they are involved in. They have a strong understanding of the project/dispute and the clients’ objectives. 

Besides, the clients are part of our teams. They are embedded in all stages of the process and work closely with our legal team. This close collaboration ensures that the communication lines are open, and there is transparency on our deliverables.  

In your opinion, are women lawyers treated differently by clients and colleagues compared to their male counterparts? 

I personally did not feel any difference throughout my 18 years career. 90% of my clients are foreign and mainly from the EU. I also worked with companies from Egypt, Dubai and India. However, I never felt I was treated differently because of my gender.  

How do you see the new generation of women lawyers? 

I think irrespective of gender, new-generation lawyers are very determined. They spent their university time much more efficiently compared to 25 years ago. They invest in their strengths, hobbies and future goals. Their self-expression skills are quite strong. They also establish their work-life balance better than our generation.  

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

I entered a university exam in 1996. At that time, if I did not choose law faculty, I would choose foreign affairs and wanted to be a diplomat. But if you ask me today, I would like to be a cook because I like to use different ingredients with different methods and to host my guests and hear their compliments about the dishes that I have prepared to make them happy.  

Which women in your life have had the most influence on your career? 

I think my grandmother had the biggest influence on me, not only on my career but also on my personal life. I spent a lot of time with her because it was not easy for my mother to deal with me and my brother, who is two years old younger than me, simultaneously.  

My grandmother was a real free soul. I always enjoyed being with her. She was surrounded by cheerful friends, and she really liked to enjoy her life. Even at a young age, she inspired me to be a strong woman and enjoy my life.  

What motivates you? 

Two things:  

The first one is my legal team. Sometimes I feel that my brain will explode because of the complexity and/or technicality of the question we are trying to solve in a dispute or matter. At those times, I see my team’s continued efforts to resolve the problem, and our brainstorming motivates me. 

The second one is having successful results. After long months and sometimes years of working on a case or matter, sharing the positive results with the client is priceless.      

Are there any pivotal moments that shaped your career as a lawyer? 

There are many pivotal moments in my career. The first thing that comes to my mind is going to Germany for an LL.M degree. It opened the doors for me to work for a big law firm and global clients. Then during my career, I switched from corporate law to insurance and reinsurance and litigation and arbitration matters. I realised that contentious work is much more suited to my character. Finally, establishing my own firm with my dream is the last pivotal moment until now.  

How do you manage your current work / life balance?  

It is not easy to manage the work/life balance, I am not sure if I can manage now, although I have been trying to do it.  

What we do at Baysal Demir is an excellent example of teamwork. My team really supports me in managing my work/life balance.  

I worked nearly every weekend for the first ten years of my career. After my son was born, things changed. I try to be at home at 6.30pm and then continue to work once he falls asleep. I allocate weekends to my family. I should admit that without my husband’s help and support, I would not manage to perform in this profession with such dedication.   

Before the pandemic, I travelled a lot, mainly abroad, for business meetings, arbitration hearings and international conferences. After two years break last year, business travels started again but at a manageable frequency.   

Now I do my best to allocate time for myself, my family and friends. 

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? 

It is a new generation and I do not think that I am in a position to give them advise about their professional life. I only would encourage them to be open to the opportunities and not feel obliged to follow what others do. I may only say that they should work with people they like and do the work they enjoy. 

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