This year marks Schoenherr Romania’s 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, CEE Legal Matters spoke with Schoenherr’s Romanian office Managing Partner Sebastian Gutiu as well as with Michael Lagler, the firm’s Managing Partner, and Partner Christoph Lindinger, who established the Romanian office and was the main driver behind Schoenherr’s expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.
CEELM: Congratulations on marking your 25th anniversary. How are you planning to celebrate it?
Gutiu: This is indeed a major milestone, and we are proud of our achievements. Schoenherr’s lawyers first came to Romania in the mid-1990s together with Austrian clients who were interested in doing business in this new market economy that was starting to take shape. Since then, our national history has been closely interlinked with the development of the country’s business environment. And with the development of the business law sector, for that matter. When we entered the market Romania had just adopted its new legislation on the legal profession, the year prior. Concepts such as the possibility for lawyers to group into law firms were still new. We soon established ourselves into one of the largest law firms in Romania and we kept on growing. We are celebrating this year by doing each day what we do best: advising our clients. We plan to turn 2021 into our best year ever. And as of right now the prospects for that look good.
CEELM: What does the 25th anniversary in Romania mean for Schoenherr at a group level?
Lagler: The beginning of our operations in Romania in 1996 was a key turning point in Schoenherr’s history. It marked the start of our expansion into Southeast Europe, a region Schoenherr was one of the first international law firms to move into. For the past 25 years, our Romanian office has been successful and a story that we are very proud of. Since it was launched, we have kept growing and have become one of the leading firms in the CEE/SEE region. Each move into a new market has taught us how the Schoenherr spirit and philosophy can blend into local cultures and get stronger every day.
CEELM: How did the local Romanian office first come to be? Who were the initial partners on the ground and how large was the team, to begin with?
Lindinger: In the summer of 1995 a client called me and asked whether I could help him buy a manufacturing plant near Arad. Of course I could! The first difficulty for me then was to locate Arad on the map. The second was to find proper local counsel. The first I managed, the second I didn’t. So I became my own local counsel. And since that was a success, I decided to institutionalize my local counsel capabilities and to open an office in Bucharest. Initially, the team consisted of two Romanian lawyers and myself.
CEELM: Looking back at your 25 years of operations, what would you identify as three of the ingredients that made the firm a success and when did they occur?
Gutiu: I believe one of the key elements that have shaped our success is our resilience. Our story is one of anticipating change and adapting to it. We promptly understood our clients’ needs, both in times of economic growth and downturn. We always preferred to move lawyers from one practice to another, rather than to let them go during hard times.
Another key aspect of the firm’s development was the decision to extend our partnership. Since 2008, we have had several rounds of promotions to local partner. They have each strengthened our team and our market position. And we have supported our partners in their international career path at Schoenherr. This includes promotions to contract and equity partners in the regional structure.
Not least, a unique blend of Romanian and international spirit runs through our veins. This feature has formed naturally and is the backbone of our activities. With our growth in Romania and the development of the Schoenherr network in Central and Eastern Europe, we quickly shifted from being the local office of an Austrian law firm into being a strong law firm in the domestic market, part of a regional powerhouse.
CEELM: Similarly, if you had to pick the deals you are most proud of your team having worked on, what would they be?
Gutiu: I simply couldn’t choose. I take pride in all the projects we have worked on, and I am humbled whenever I think about how many there are. I get glimpses into what we have helped our clients achieve, whenever I drive through Bucharest or across Romania. Sometimes when I see a factory, a store, a hotel, a hospital, a highway – you name it – I realize “hey, we worked on the acquisition of that company, the development or financing of that project, we cleared a dispute here” or whatnot. It is truly impressive and rewarding.
CEELM: What about the team? How has it evolved over the years and how do you imagine it will continue to do so?
Gutiu: Our team has grown over 25-fold in these 25 years. It started with an Austrian lawyer flying in whenever a client needed local advice, then we added two Romanian lawyers. This soon turned into a full-time on-site team. From this, we got to 23 lawyers in the first ten years and to 60 today. We have also developed a strong team of business professionals, including finance, human resources, marketing, IT, etc. Each person who is or has been part of our team makes up a valuable piece of our history and we are extremely grateful to all of them. We plan to keep our position in the ranking when it comes to team size. Continuing to invest in our people and our technology, I strongly believe that we are on the correct path to further strengthen our position as one of the leading law firms in the market, also in terms of profitability.
CEELM: What in the past 25 years do you look back at with the most fondness?
Gutiu: The people. And though I can’t name everyone here as there is not enough room, I would be loath not to mention Markus Piuk and Matei Florea. The three of us met each other over 20 years ago and we have been working together closely ever since. I believe our combined synergies in these two decades have shaped Schoenherr Romania into what it is today.
CEELM: On the flip side, what is one thing you regret not yet having a chance to do?
Gutiu: I can’t really think of anything. If forced to think of something, maybe not having opened local offices in other major Romanian cities.
CEELM: Where do you imagine the local office to be 25 years from now?
Gutiu: All I know is that I won’t be around [laughs]. I expect we will see changes in the way law firms are organized and managed much sooner than that. Efficiency and profitability will become even more important drivers for a firm’s success. At any rate, I am confident that Schoenherr and its people will be able to adapt to any new challenge.