This month's Spotlight interview features Partner and maritime lawyer, Andreas Silcher, from Haynes and Boone. We talk to Andreas about how his practice responded in relation to the pandemic, what he'd most like to change within law and the firm's work to develop women in the industry. Andreas also tells us about his most respected lawyer, his grandfather, and the fascinating work he carried out as associate defence counsel at the IG Farben war crime trial.
Andreas, you have been with Haynes and Boone for over 4 years and have over 15 years’ experience as a maritime lawyer. How was your practice affected by the changes over the last year and how did it respond?
From a legal point of view the pandemic threw up some interesting new questions, often around issues of force majeure and the industries in which I work quickly adapted with specific “COVID clauses” now being an integral part of many commercial agreements.
On a practical level, my practice always involved a lot of overseas travel. This obviously came to a grinding halt in March 2020. In hindsight, the transition to doing everything online was remarkably smooth: from shipbuilding contract negotiations with Asian yards to arbitration hearings in London everything moved to Zoom or Teams and this worked really well until it didn’t. By that I mean that you cannot build the same rapport over a video link as you can when you are sitting across a table, and I think people came to realise that eventually. For me, business travel and in-person meetings are now starting to pick up again, but I think it will be a while before things are back to pre-pandemic levels.
The firm has over 18 offices worldwide across the US, Mexico and Shanghai, with the London office being established as a result of the merger with CDG in August 2016. How has the London office developed over this time and what are the areas of focus for 2022 and beyond?
At the time of the merger, our practice consisted of shipping and offshore energy. These industries are still at the heart of the Haynes Boone London office, but we have added a range of new practice areas including energy projects, international arbitration, fund finance and corporate.
The guiding principles for our continuing growth are set out in our 2025 Plan, which contains our strategy to grow substantially in size, revenue, profitability and brand recognition, all while fiercely protecting and promoting our unique culture of teamwork, superior client-first service and accountability to each other. We expect the London office to grow significantly over the next few years. However, we want to grow carefully and strategically and are not after growth for growth’s sake: we are looking for lawyers who are complementary to our existing practice areas either in London or in our other offices. What we try to avoid are people working in a silo within Haynes Boone, even if it is an economically successful silo.
Haynes and Boone refers to its people as ‘the heart and soul’ of the firm. How did the firm put its people first during lockdown and what initiatives have been implemented into the business as a direct result of the pandemic?
There can be no doubt that its people are every law firm’s most important asset. In 2020, Haynes Boone created our in-house wellness initiative, HB Well, as part of our commitment to supporting the whole person health and wellness of each person at the firm. From education to policies to programs, the goals of HB Well are to raise awareness of behavioural health challenges, facilitate a reduction in the incidence of problematic substance use and mental health distress, and improve and support our lawyers’ and employees’ well-being. This initiative is multi-facetted, including a variety of presentations, weekly guided mediation sessions and training to a number of colleagues to enable them to offer individual and confidential peer support.
Haynes and Boone Partner, Paul Amiel, has been awarded the ‘Her Champion’ award from the Dallas Women Lawyers Association for championing the advancement and development of women. What part does equality and diversity play in the culture of Haynes and Boone?
Paul is one of our most steadfast and spirited allies, who has mentored and supported the development of many Haynes Boone women during his long tenure as a partner in our finance section. His recognition in this respect is extremely well deserved. Equality and diversity play a huge part in our culture, not only because it is good for our people, it is good for clients and it is good for business but also because we firmly believe that it is the right thing to do. We recently welcomed Sharon Jones as our first ever Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. We have focused on DEI initiatives for years, so this is not a new area for us, but Sharon will continue developing our key DEI initiatives and help us achieve our goal to be among the industry leaders in DEI.
If you could change one thing within the legal industry, or within your practice area, what would that be and why?
That is a far-reaching question because the legal industry is not a single profession, it is a dynamic ecosystem. However, looking at big law firms, I would like us to focus less on billable hours. My personal view is that setting ever increasing targets impacts a lawyer’s ability to balance work and life concerns and can make it harder to concentrate on the matters at hand when at work. We need to look at ways of making practising law less stressful, in particular at the more junior end of the scale.
Name the biggest lesson you have learned either in your professional or personal life.
One important lesson I learned in life is that the more you give, the more you receive. It may seem obvious and a little basic, but it is easy to forget, and I think it impacts all levels of professional and personal life: the more time and attention you give people, the more time and attention they are likely to give you. And the more generous you are, the more generosity you are likely to receive.
You have been recognised as a ‘Recommended Lawyer’, Legal 500 and a ‘Stand out Lawyer’, Acritas Stars 2020-2021. Aside from your current colleagues, which lawyer do you most admire and why?
On the risk of being accused of family bias, I would probably pick my grandfather. He was associate defence counsel at the IG Farben trial, which was one of the trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany after the second world war (the so-called Nuremberg trials). At the time, the IG Farben was a large German conglomerate of chemical firms and in a mammoth effort my grandfather investigated and analysed its involvement in the Holocaust. I have some of his files at home and they make for fascinating reading.
Andreas, as a fluent speaker in Greek, German, Spanish and English, I imagine you have spent a great deal of time in these countries? But what country would you most like to visit that you have yet to experience?
I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to visit quite a few countries and spent extended periods in some of them. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single one. One place I have never been and would love to visit is Chile. It encompasses a remarkable variety of climates and landscapes, which must be fascinating to visit. Hopefully I get to go one day!
Apart from the usual wallet, phone, laptop, what item is always with you / you never leave the house without?
My children make fun of me for this, but I have a pair of galoshes which I take with me whenever there is a chance of rain (which there is most days in London). They are a type of rubber over shoes, which you slip over your shoes to protect them from mud and rain.
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