fivehundred magazine > > Ms. Çağlar Köktürk Akoymak, Partner, Aksu-Çalışkan-Beygo Attorney Partnership, ASC Law

Ms. Çağlar Köktürk Akoymak, Partner, Aksu-Çalışkan-Beygo Attorney Partnership, ASC Law

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

As a matter of fact, I have wanted to become a lawyer for almost as long as I can remember. I suppose I was influenced to a large degree by my older brother, who is ten years my senior and a highly-regarded lawyer in his own right. When I first started thinking seriously about my future, early in high school, he was strongly encouraging me to study law. 

At the time I was applying to university here in Turkey, you had to designate both the university you were interested in attending and your major before taking the university entrance exams. I was living with my family in Ankara then. Although of two minds, I chose Ankara’s prestigious Middle East Technical University and, because it had no law school, I selected Political Science and Public Administration as my major. I did well on the entrance exams and started my studies at Middle East Technical University in 1993. By my sophomore year, however, after having taken several law classes, I found the study of law was as interesting as I had always thought it would be and, indeed, inspiring.   

So I bit the bullet and re-took the university entrance exam and was thrilled when I was accepted by the top-tier Istanbul University Faculty of Law. I loved my new major. I graduated from law school in 1999 and never looked back. 

In your twenty-one years as a practicing lawyer, what barriers have you encountered during your career growth and as a female lawyer in the Turkish legal market? 

I started my career in the early 2000s as an inhouse lawyer at Akşam Media, then owned by Çukurova Group (one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates). Fortunately for me, the corporate culture and governance at Akşam were far above industry standards found in Turkey at the time and, just as importantly, Akşam had already embraced diversity as a core value. Even my first direct report manager was female, although upper executive roles were still mostly dominated by men.  

In this regard, I have been lucky throughout my career. My experiences at Akşam Media, Ciner Media (2005-2008), Turkuvaz Media (2008-2016), and now ASC Law, have taught me that employers who adopt objective key performance indicator (i.e., “KPI”) based performance review systems, and pre-defined promotion schemes, provide greatly increased career opportunities for women.  

I have been able to practice what I preach, so to speak, since I joined ASC Law’s Debt Collection Department in 2017. I was the only licensed attorney working in the Department at the time. Since then, we have expanded that number to nine, five of whom are women. We also have ten legal interns, seven of whom are women.  

And I am also proud to say approximately 60% of ASC Law’s licensed attorneys are women. It is not as if I, or the firm, have made a particularly deliberate effort to hire and promote women. It is just, in my opinion, the natural result of paying attention to KPIs.  

You’ve worked in both law firms and corporate legal departments. Do you find there are differing cultures between the two with respect to the roles that women have played and continue to play? 

The keywords here, I believe, are “good corporate governance”. Whether you are in a law firm or in a company, if the management has the vision, mindset and determination to become a truly “corporate”— in the best sense of that word – transparency, equality and diversity will follow. The more upper management and its leaders embrace values such as human dignity, equal pay and being a good corporate citizen, including having more women in the workforce, especially at the managerial levels, the better the workplace, in all ways, becomes.  

One observation I might add, however, is that it appears Turkish companies have been able to achieve this positive transformation much more quickly than Turkish law firms. My theory for this is the progress, or lack thereof, of many local law firms in this area are tied to, for better or worse, the vision of a founding partner or two, whereas companies, which are often subject to fierce cross-border competition, are keener to adopt international “best practices” and, indeed, must so as to remain competitive.  

Since joining ASC Law in 2017, what accomplishments at are you the proudest of at the firm? 

Debt enforcement is rather an “operational” focused practice area, when compared to other legal practice areas. Collection processes are set forth in great detail in the Turkish law and one must, for the most part, simply follow them, albeit carefully. That debt enforcement provides less room for legal innovation, and, on top of that, includes a high amount of repetitive work, creates the most challenging part of my practice, i.e., keeping our lawyers, supervisors, support staff, interns and other professionals happy with their work and, perhaps most importantly, motivated. To overcome this fundamental challenge, I have had to focus on operational excellence and productivity. What I am most proud of here at ASC Law is having brought a “human centric” approach to the management my Department.  

Clients rightfully expect to see good numbers, but this does not necessarily require one to build its business, organization and KPIs totally based on numbers. We, of course, are very careful about such matters when making our hiring decisions. But perhaps more important is appreciating a strong work-life balance, good relations amongst peers, accessibility of managers, working with the right, convenient, and easy-to-use tools, institutionalized feedback, showing our lawyers their efforts are appreciated, out-of-office events and encouraging our lawyers to take initiative. All of these considerations have come together, or are coming together, to create an excellent, and to a large degree now self-sustaining, overall working environment, which in turn has had an enormous impact on delivering, efficiently, fantastic results for our clients.  

It pleases me to no end when I come to the office to see many of our team members already hard at work, sometimes after having been here late into the previous evening. Our workplace is often punctuated with excited conversation, and laughter. Just as pleasing is seeing many of my team generously helping each other, and seeing all of them work together well regardless of their backgrounds and job descriptions. Perhaps my favourite moments are when one of my team comes to me with a good idea for streamlining some part of our processes, ideas which have resulted in cutting, in the medium to long run, many hundreds of hours from the time we need to spend on, what is now, our very heavy workload.  

Can you tell us about your current role as Partner in ASC Law’s enforcement department?  

I am a Partner of ASC Law’s Debt Enforcement Department, which includes, not insignificantly, an inhouse debt collection Call Centre employing approximately 100 non-lawyer professionals. Our Department represents a large portfolio of Turkish and international clients, made up of both creditors and debtors from many different sectors, including banks, telecom operators, internet service providers, utility services providers, and leasing and factoring entities.  

Lawyers in my team have particular experience in enforcement and bankruptcy. Our practice involves all aspects of debt collection, starting with pre-litigation collection efforts, first using our Call Centre and then, if unsuccessful there, working with the government’s Debt Collection Offices. If we have still not reached a reasonable accommodation with the debt holders, we initiate litigation in the local courts.  

Our work includes the use of all available debt enforcement tools, including, to name a few, garnishment, the seizure of bank accounts and personal property, and foreclosure proceedings against real property. We deal with all types of debts, whether arising out of commercial contracts, court judgments and arbitral awards, financings, guarantee arrangements and pledges. 

How would you define the culture at ASC Law? 

If I had to identify one characteristic of ASC Law distinguishing it from other local firms, it is that the firm has one of the most experienced and successful – and, I would add, enlightened – senior leadership teams in Turkey.  

More particularly, the firm’s Founding Partners, Mr. Murat Aksu, Mr. Zeki Çalışkan – my direct report – and Mr. Okan Beygo, have, together, practiced law for nearly 100 years. The Head of our Dispute Resolution Department, Mr. Doğan Coşgun, also a key member of the firm’s leadership, has practiced law for 25 years. Just as importantly, and perhaps more so, all four gentlemen previously had successful careers working inhouse at local and international banks, and/or other major Turkish companies, giving them early exposure to many internationally accepted “best practices” not yet widely used in Turkey.  

These “best practices” include several I would put under the rubric of “good corporate governance”, with those I hold dearest transparency, equality and diversity. Without the commitment to such values at the highest levels of ASC Law, I certainly would not have been able to accomplish what I have here, as I have been left largely free, and indeed encouraged, to focus on improving operational excellence and productivity through the use of my above mentioned “human centric” approach.  

What I have seen my past four years here at ASC Law is a shared business and solution-oriented mindset, in which the firm’s employees and clients come first. Whether internally with their colleagues, and externally with our clients, the firm’s lawyers have consistently built effective and engaged relationships which are laser focused on one primary goal, i.e., providing efficient, yet still first-rate, legal solutions for our clients.  

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

By empowerment. Turkish society is rather patriarchal and it is not particularly common to see women in managerial roles in Turkey, especially when compared to other developing, and developed, countries. That is mostly because of the traditional mindset we Turks carry. But technological disruption has been, as is the case with so many older ways of thinking, radically changing this mind set, most importantly shifting the gender-related paradigms in what I consider to be the right direction. Law firms hoping to be a part of this change must promote talented people, regardless of their gender, with the courage and vision to drive this necessary change. I would like to think the overall momentum in this direction in Turkey and elsewhere cannot be reversed, as it makes sense, not only ethically, but also because it is, most simply put, good business.    

Which women have inspired you the most?  

You know, I have been asked this question a lot and I have never been able to settle on a good candidate or candidates. I suppose I have always looked for my inspiration from within, dealing for example with issues related to sexism in the workplace by considering the unique circumstances in which they have come up for me. I guess I am a bit of a pioneer here in Turkey; I just do not know too many other Turkish women who have followed the path I have to whom I might look to for inspiration.    

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 believe the most successful lawyers, whether female or male, are the ones who can consider any particular legal issue they are faced with from several different, and informed, perspectives. Today, legal questions are more complicated than ever, and to be able to render effective advice lawyers should also have a good understanding of the commercial, financial and technical aspects impacting any particular question of law. It is easy to say, or simply restate, what any given law explicitly provides. But that, I strongly believe, is never enough. Good lawyers must first consider the many ways a particular law has been, or may be, applied in the real world, while at the same time considering the legal risks these various applications may pose to their clients. Only then is it possible to formulate a legal strategy that is both realistic and best serves their clients’ interests. 

To be able to do all of that, not only female but all young lawyers who wish to have successful careers in commercial law must look beyond the narrow curriculum of their legal educations, and continually seek to deepen not only their knowledge of the law but also their understanding of other disciplines such as business administration, economy, finance and trade.  

As for female lawyers, my greatest advise would be to never give up – as I have seen too many of my colleagues do – to a debilitating pessimism in the face of the inevitable discrimination they will encounter. Over just my 20-plus-year career, relatively brief in the scheme of things, I have seen Turkey and, indeed, much of the world rapidly change for the better in so many ways. I believe these changes are fundamental and are not likely to be reversed. And the rate of this change in the coming years will only accelerate. In this brave, and I think exciting, new world, full of opportunities for all. Those who recognize and embrace these changes, with vision, courage and talent, will take the lead, regardless of their gender.   

Ms. Çağlar Köktürk Akoymak – Partner at ASC Law 

Ms. Çağlar Köktürk Akoymak joined ASC Law in May 2017 as a Partner in the firm’s Debt Collection Department. At that time, Çağlar was the only licensed attorney in her Department, along with other non-lawyer collection professionals. Under Çağlar’s leadership, ASC Law’ Debt Department has expanded to nine attorneys, with the number of legal interns and other professionals now well over 100.    

Çağlar began her career at Akşam Media (2002-2005), Ciner Media (2005-2008) and Turkuvaz Media (2008-2016), where she worked on a variety of litigation matters as well as providing general consultation on a variety of legal issues, including compliance. Before leaving Turkuvaz, Çağlar was its Legal Affairs Manager, responsible for all legal issues arising out of Turkuvaz’s printed and digital media businesses.  

From the fall 1993 through spring 1995, Çağlar studied Political Science and Public Administration at Ankara’s prestigious Middle East Technical University. Çağlar began studying law in the fall 1995 at the top-tier Istanbul University Faculty of Law, from which she obtain her law degree in 1999. Çağlar continued her formal education in 2003, when she obtained a Master’s in Business Law from Istanbul’s Bilgi University. 

Çağlar is married and has two children, ages of 8 and 13. 

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