Alexander Ritnay is managing partner of the independent German law firm Noerr. Before hosting the Global Independent Law Firms Forum 2021 in November, he speaks to Law.com International about pandemic pressures and the lack of face-to-face interaction with referral firms.
Transaction activity in the world’s major economies has been very busy for the past 12 months. What do you expect for the next 12 months?
Given the low interest rates and liquidity in the market, we expect transaction activity – both domestically and internationally – to continue and likely increase in the next 12 months. This is likely due to the fact that significant reorganizations and restructurings are also underway in many industries.
What are the greatest challenges for your company and your customers?
As both demographics and job preferences seem to be changing, talent recruiting and retention is one of the biggest challenges as it also has to do with the work model as such and how we can evolve it.
For clients, it may be managing the complexities of running a business in an increasingly regulated and sometimes politicized environment.
How do pay and diversity and ESG policies affect how you seek to retain talent? Did you have to make changes?
In order to be able to recruit and retain talent, money alone is not enough. What is required is a holistic approach that takes into account aspects such as training, market position, career path, corporate culture, but also ESG and diversity. Diversity and ESG are very important to us and we are constantly making progress.
How has your company adapted to the new way of working? For example, have you implemented hybrid working / invested in technology / invested in less office space?
We have always allowed some flexibility in terms of working remotely. However, the pandemic has taught us to institutionalize the model on a wider scale, and we are now seeing a greater need for flexibility. We are therefore in the process of adopting a new policy that balances remote work, office presence and teamwork. We already have the technology. At the same time, we initiated an internal process company-wide to discuss how we want to work together in the future, including the design of office space.
Are there certain legal technologies that you think are particularly innovative? If so, which ones are they and why?
On the one hand, there is the toolbox, which now also includes video conferences, shared documents, project management and some algorithm-based search tools. It’s all very useful, but hardly a revolution. However, it will be interesting to see how AI will find its use case in the top market segment to improve both quality and efficiency. That is still an open question.
How well positioned after the pandemic are independent law firms compared to international competitors to deal with the new business environment?
The pandemic has shown the enormous resilience of the independent law firm model. In fact, all of the top companies have adapted well and performed very well. This is the reward for a focus on quality and customer service that is not just our DNA, but drives customer demand for our services. As customers face increasingly complex challenges and projects, we are very confident that we can offer them the support they need.
To what extent do you see the Big Four as a threat to your business model and the industry as a whole?
The Big Four have a lot of financial firepower and are to be taken seriously, but have not yet made it into the top market segment.
Have travel restrictions prevented you from developing your relationships with companies in other countries?
Travel restrictions are certainly perceived as an obstacle to business development. However, we know each other so well among the leading independent law firms and many are constantly working together on cross-border matters, so I don’t see any negative impact on our ability to build our relationships, at least in the short and medium term.
More information about GILF 2021 can be found on the website.