The Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series continues with an interview with Sofia Idehn, Managing Counsel Africa, Middle-East, India, Pacific Region, with the Renault Group.
Experienced in Swedish, French, Luxembourg, Italian and EU law, Sofia has more than 10 years of experience within leading international law firms and multinational companies, working mainly with cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and corporate, commercial and competition law.
Stephanie Greaves, Associate Director at Laurence Simons Search, catches up with multi-lingual Sofia to gain an insight into her remarkable international career, moving from a private practice to an in-house role, and the joys of living in Paris.
Stephanie Greaves (SG): Good afternoon Sofia. Thank you for taking the time to chat to me today. Please can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Sofia Idehn (SI): In a nutshell, I am Swedish born and raised. I completed most of my studies in Sweden (economy and law), and subsequently pursued legal studies in France and Spain, focussing on developing an international career. All in all, I have worked and lived in Sweden, Italy, Belgium, France, and Spain…
SG: What made you decide to pursue a career in law? Was it an obvious choice?
SI: Not an obvious one, I was considering several options, however the legal profession appeared to open many doors and provide a solid academic base. It also had the possibility of offering a variety of career options. Prior to settling on legal studies, I had also considered a career in medicine or economics.
SG: Interesting! Now your career is embedded in the legal profession, have there been times where you have felt particularly challenged as a lawyer, and how did you overcome this?
SI: No particular incident stands out but curating my international career has been the most challenging part. Now that I have gained international experiences it has been easier to gain further opportunities to grow my career but getting there has been a challenge. Succeeding in this has not been due to a single thing, there is an accumulation of initiatives and decisions required to get you there!
SG: Indeed, your experience and legal training is truly international. As this has been a conscious effort, how have you curated these opportunities for yourself?
SI: It has definitely been a conscious effort! First of all, I studied outside of Sweden, (France and Spain), to gain that international exposure and a solid legal background outside of Sweden. I also learnt (and practiced!) the local languages where I was studying and working.
Relationship building has been key in terms of getting one step ahead and being clear and vocal about wanting to seize international opportunities and embracing them when they arrive. It is important to express to your employers where you would like your career to go, as doors can open in unexpected ways. Whilst at Linklaters, the transfer from the Stockholm office to the Paris one was atypical at the time (aside from fixed-term secondments), but through previous work with the Paris team and jointly working on a deal whilst on secondment in Milan, I was able to create and maintain valuable relationships which assisted me in securing this opportunity. This may not have been open to me otherwise.
SG: Thank you, that is really valuable insight. Clearly you are still in the full throws of you career, but, with hindsight, how would you say these international experiences have shaped you as a lawyer so far?
SI: Having worked with different sectors and cultures, I’ve been able to develop cross-cultural awareness which has been valuable when working in an international group such as Renault. You also gain the capability to adapt to different situations, and sectors, which is always useful both in terms of adapting to different profiles and environments, but also to changes within the business and processes.
SG: What would you say you are most proud of in your career to date?
SI: I would say being able to build an international career in the legal field and the diversity of the experiences I have been able to accumulate. This has been acquired through remaining curious and always pursuing my interests.
SG: You previously worked in private practice and transferred to an inhouse role. What would you say were the main differences between these two areas and was it an easy transition to make?
SI: I actually already had in mind to move in-house when I started working, as I liked the idea of having a broad legal career. It made sense to begin in private practice as this is the best school you can have, but through the three secondments I was able to undertake, I realised that I truly enjoyed the role of an in-house lawyer. As a result, the transition was easy as I knew what I was getting into!
There are big differences between these two roles. In private practice, you give legal advice that is focussed purely on legal matters, whereas inhouse, in a more generalist role, you also have to take into consideration commercial and strategic goals, as well as the degree of risk your company is willing to take. You also have a pedagogical role which is important. You give legal advice adapted to the specificities of your company, and are also considered a trusted advisor and team member, beyond legal matters. Also, unlike private practice, of your colleagues do not hail from a legal background and this needs to be taken into account.
SG: Do you think there are some challenges specific to being a non-French lawyer in France?
SI: Yes, I think there can be. This could actually apply for any non-national of any country. The subject of law is national in itself. When operating In France, you do not gain trust automatically if your background not purely French, and you have to build trust and credibility. The knowledge of the legal system and language is important. A near perfect mastering of the language is preferable. I have always looked for roles with an international dimension, but it remains important to combine the international experience with a local understanding. When you are not a local lawyer you need to increasingly trust yourself and be self-confident when exercising your role to ensure credibility.
SG: What do you enjoy most about living in Paris?
SI: Paris is a very beautiful place, and I enjoy living in a big city which offers a variety of things to do. There is a rich cultural heritage, a diversity of culinary experiences on offer, plus you are in the middle of Europe which facilitates visiting other countries, as well as other parts of France.
SG: Diversity and inclusion is very important to Laurence Simons Search. Can you please tell us what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, and why they’re important?
SI: For me these matters equate to fairness and meritocracy. Regardless of your background and gender, you ought to be able to succeed based on merit. It is important that people from different backgrounds are able to work together as they have different talents to bring to the table. Beyond the important ethical and moral standpoint, many studies show that the more diverse the organisation, the more growth and revenue is generated. It is also an ethical and moral matter. Having worked for different organisations, it is good to see these issues rightfully and increasingly being put forward, as it is crucial to attract top talent. I also realise that such initiatives may have also contributed to my own career growth.
SG: And finally, if you had an extra hour in the day how would you spend it?
SI: I could do more reading, spend time with friends, relax/sleep. I could choose depending on what I am lacking the most at the time!
SG: Thank you Sofia for your honesty and insightful answers. It has been a pleasure talking with you today.