Interview: Christof Kleinmann, Managing Partner GvW Graf von Westphalen, Frankfurt

Lawyer Career: Success in the legal profession is no coincidence. Is it always just the result of hard work? Or is it also about doing the right thing at the right time? What is the secret of successful lawyers? What should one pay attention to from the very beginning? Do you really seize every opportunity? And is the decision for a career really a decision against a fulfilled private life? In our series "Success in the legal profession is no coincidence" we present top lawyers and their very personal recipe for success:

Christof Kleinmann

How to reinvent yourself as a law firm:

Christof Kleinmann, Lawyer and Managing Partner at GvW-Graf von Westphalen is a specialist in employment law in Frankfurt, whose "practice with Malte Evers is constantly developing" according to JUVE in the Handbook for Commercial Law Firms 2015/2016. In addition, at GvW he is responsible for the banks and financial service providers as well as the location Turkey.

Mr Kleinmann describes this path for GvW:

"Is GvW Graf von Westphalen a top law firm?

In some aspects certainly not yet. But GvW can certainly already look back with great confidence on what it has achieved and in many areas it can compete with much larger and more renowned law firms. Above all, however, we have seen clear, measurable progress in achieving our goals for years.

First of all: Where do we come from?

In the past decade, GvW was primarily a large general store advising on commercial law - actually only a kind of franchise or co-branding. The common goal was essentially limited to ensuring that everything would remain as it had always been. Instead of deciding on real changes, it was agreed on the lowest common denominator. The problem was, of course, that, apart from the reliability of the familiar, there were no reasons why the market should mandate GvW in particular in a constantly changing and highly dynamic market. There were no features in the structure of the firm or in its strategy in which we differed positively from other law firms.

For this reason, we agreed on new, ambitious corporate goals within the partnership in 2010 and developed a multi-year strategy to achieve these goals. The most important goal was: SPECIALISATION! Everyone should only work for us in those areas in which they are really good, with the aim of building up an excellent reputation. We only want specialists at the highest legal level and not old-school generalists - accordingly, acquisition for other professionals is incentivised. We were certain that our clients would appreciate this and that it would set us apart from other, medium-sized law firms.

In retrospect, the success of the last few years proves us right: not only do we receive better and better mandates, but we also work with more and more specialized professionals on these mandates across locations. This increases the quality and binds the mandates to the company.

Implementing this specialisation was not an easy path to take. We had to overcome a lot of internal resistance: Lawyers had to give up advising in certain specialist areas! Mandates had to be handled by the best consultants for the respective problem and not by those who won the mandate! This contradicts the traditional principle of "eat what you kill" - our old profit distribution system was largely based on this principle. Now teamwork is required and everyone has to play his or her role! In other words: Today we live from passing on mandates internally and from involving lawyers from various departments and different locations.

How do you achieve this?

  • Through financial incentives for acquisition work and other development and management services such as personnel work, strengthening brand awareness through lectures and publications, etc.
  • by creating reliability and trust in the work of the elected bodies (mainly through discussions, talks and even more talks),
  • by creating a strong and professional administration which must always function reliably and efficiently, regardless of the incumbents,
  • by defining measurable goals and criteria, the development of which transparently shows whether we are on the right track, and
  • by creating professional evaluation tools that enable us to manage the company based on controlling. In our view, the reliability and meaningfulness of figures is very important, because figures ground academic discussions very quickly and show - sometimes mercilessly - what is and what is not. But they also motivate when efforts are reflected in positive developments. Ultimately, key figures are the main steering instrument.

By consistently following up on these measures, we have succeeded in bringing about a complete cultural change in key areas in recent years. We think much more entrepreneurially. The client is in the foreground, not the lawyer who knows him or her or his or her personal turnover. Nowadays we naturally talk about contribution margins and profitability - years ago this was not possible due to lack of controlling. This is also important for us because our clients think the same way and, as an external service provider, they expect us to have not only legal expertise but also an understanding of commercial and economic backgrounds. The client expects advice at eye level.

Through this fundamental renewal of the company and its culture, we are very modern and thus attractive for career changers and for young lawyers, as we are regularly attested by the trade press. In the LTO Young Professionals Survey 2016 - Germany's largest survey of young lawyers - we were once again named the most popular medium-sized law firm.

And that is perhaps the most important thing: Without the right people at GvW we are nothing!

To work with committed and positive-thinking people in the right environment - that's what everyone wants! That's why we have made an effort in recent years to make GvW even more likeable for our partners and employees and to give everyone at GvW the feeling of why they are just right for us. I think that this also distinguishes us from some others!

Thank you very much.

In 2016, GvW was showered with awards: both for the professional achievements of your lawyers and for your law firm development strategy. The PMN Award was given for "Business Development", as well as the nomination for Best Lawyers 2017 by the Handelsblatt, Chambers Europe 2016, Law Firm of the year 2016, Legal 500 2016, JUVE Handbook 2015/2016 and so on.

And not to forget the top rankings as best employer in the Trendence Graduate Barometer and LTO-Young Professionals Choice. Congratulations!

(Originally published on 12.10.2016 on the former CLP blog JurCoach.)



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