Edith Nordmann has recently made managing partner at ACG International. Prior to that she has worked for fifteen years as an attorney for international clients. In this interview we meet her.
New as managing partner at ACG International. What is your specialization?
I practice employment law as well as commercial and corporate law and litigation. I have built up fifteen years of expertise in cross-border business transactions. People often think that cross border business transactions only apply to transactions with business partners far away from home, but any transaction involving parties that are not located in the same country is a “cross-border” transaction. Therefore also transactions with countries nearby, such as Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom need utmost diligence and attention in order to avoid unexpected expensive mistakes.
I focus on long-term relationships with clients. Building and maintaining a relationship is important for best serving the interests of a client. In practice, I find that clients appreciate this and I feel very lucky to have been working for many of them for a long time. Particularly in Asian countries, earning the trust of your potential business partner comes before engaging in actual business.
It is important to realize that not only regulations are different in each country, there is often also a significant difference in mentality and expectations. For example, in France, everybody knows that a tenant can not be removed from his house between October and April. Not even if the tenant does not pay his rent. As of April tenants may be evicted, which means that in France April and May is generally a busy time with a lot of evictions. Here in the Netherlands we do not know this principle, but in France, every child knows this figuratively speaking. If you consider to invest in residential property in France, this is important to know. Another example: in the Netherlands we love conviviality and a joke, even during business transactions. The German business partner however, is very serious in his approach and sees the jokes of the Dutch as rude and as a sign of not being serious about the transaction at hand. If you are not aware of this, closing your deal will be at serious danger. I once witnessed this looming situation and could luckily intervene on both sides on time.
ACG International positions itself as a modern and cost-effective law firm. How does ACG differ from the competitors?
The ‘billable hour’ in law is outdated and does no longer fit the client’s needs and expectations. The entrepreneur wants to know where he stands, including the budget for his legal costs.
The traditional lawyer sells time. A lawyer at a large law firm must make 1600 billable hours per year. These are hours to be paid by clients. Large offices employ dozens of lawyers who all have to make sure that they reach the amount of billable hours according to the firm’stargets. At ACG we keep the fixed core small for a purpose. We look at the current needs of the client and look for the appropriate solution. We add specialists to the team where they are needed. Entrepreneurs are well aware that the complexity of regulations in international transactions is increasing. That’s why they want a trusted legal advisor who helps them avoid pitfalls and shows them the legal challenges without slowing down their business. ACG provides their clients with those trusted legal advisors. ACG does not employ dozens of lawyers who all have to turn their sales. Instead we provide tailor made solutions to fit the needs of the client. This means that our clients can concentrate on their core business while being assured that ACG’s specialist cover their legal challenges and pitfalls. In addition, we not only focus on specialization but also on complexity and costs. In some cases a super specialist – or even multiple – is needed and sometimes a cheap simple solution is enough or even preferable. We discuss these options with our clients. As we don’t have to sell the hours of dozens of lawyers, ACG can adapt quickly to deliver the perfect fit to the differing needs of our clients. We know all the specialists that we engage personally and know how they work, both nationally and internationally.
Do you notice that clients appreciate this approach? And how do you notice this?
They appreciate that for several reasons: budgets are considered in advance, so the invoice is never a surprise. In addition, they appreciate that they get a specialist for their problem and not someone who happens to work with us. We do however always remain the direct contact point for the convenience of our clients.
Why do other offices not use the same approach? is this solely due to the earnings? Or is a culture change what is mostly necessary?
Both; All employees at a large law firm need to earn themselves back.
In addition, culture plays a major role. Until 2008 charging clients based on billable hours was normal in the legal profession. Because this was known to and accepted by most companies, there was no need for adjustment. However, nowadayscompanies are critically considering their expenses, including the costs of their lawyer. And they are absolutely right in doing so! In the past, companies sent anything that was somewhat legal to their lawyer. As of 2008, companies took care of their legal matters themselves as far as possible; due to the financial crisis it was important to take heed of costs. Since the financial crisis has lasted a considerable time, this changed approach has currently been adapted bymany companies. Clients want to know upfront how much the legal service is going to cost. At ACG we give that clarity.
Apart from the clarity of costs, how do I know if ACG International’s work brings added value to my company?
A good (personal) match between the client and his legal service provider is very important. Therefore I hereby gladly invite entrepreneurs locally and abroad to present their challenges to us by means of a short (telephone) conversation without any obligation. This allows them to assess whether ACG International can offer what they are looking for. We can be reached on +31 20 800 64 00 or firstname.lastname@example.org.