The Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series continues with an interview with German born Sandra Hundsdörfer, a German lawyer with 20 years’ experience as lawyer and partner with the French-German law firm LPA-CGR.
Our private practice consultants, Laurent Pompanon, from our Paris office, and Sven Laacks, from our Frankfurt office, chat to Sandra about becoming a Partner with a legal background from a different jurisdiction, and the challenges and struggles on cross-border work.
Laurence Simons Search (LSS): Hello Sandra, thank you for sharing some of your time with us today.
Sandra Hundsdörfer (SH): Hello Laurent, hello Sven. It is a pleasure and thank you for your invitation.
LSS: Sandra, you have been living and working in Paris for more than 20 years now. How did you make your way to Paris?
SH: That is a long story, but I will try to keep it short. My grandmother lived in France for a long time, so she is my original link to France. I went to a bi-lingual school and always kept the connection to France and the French language. Later, I studied in
Bonn and Berlin and whilst waiting to get a place for my legal clerkship in Berlin I went back to France and worked during an internship with Charles-Henri De Pardieu at De Pardieu Brocas Maffei. He is an amazing and outstanding lawyer and personality, and he showed me what it does mean to be a legal consultant to your clients.
During my legal clerkship, I again spent most of my time in France, so once I graduated it was an obvious decision to look for a job opportunity in France. I started to work for a small German firm in Paris, and then two years later I joined GGV in Paris.
LSS: That is such an interesting journey. Moving to live in France is one thing, but being a German-qualified lawyer in France, and developing such a successful career must have been a lot more complicated?
SH: Definitely. After starting to work with GGV, I began to learn French law, training on the job. It was a tough time, but at the same time an enriching experience.
In my opinion it was actually a big advantage to have a background as a German-qualified lawyer, being able to approach a lot of areas and topics in a very structured way. But, yes, making myself familiar with the relevant French legal background did take me a couple of years.
LSS: You now have over ten years-experience as a partner. Can you please tell us a bit more about LPA-CGR and LPA-GGV?
SH: It was quite fortunate starting my career with GGV due to the strong German French focus of the firm. I stayed with the firm for 19 years and then moved to LPA-CGR. A couple of months later, GGV Germany also joined LPA-CGR. Currently LPA has 230 lawyers in 13 offices in Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia; we offer full-service in all areas of business law and have a particular strong Real Estate and Energy / Environment law focus.
What makes us special is our France-German cross-border department. It currently consists of four partners and seven associates on the French side and three partners and four associates on the German side. We are proud that we are the largest French-German department in the legal sector. Another strength of LPA-CGR in the French German field is our presence in Germany. We are the only French firm with three offices in Germany: Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich.
LSS: As part of the largest German French Desk at an international law firm, what are the biggest challenges you encounter serving clients on cross-border legal matters?
SH: At LPA we have a strong focus on mid-sized, industrial clients, mostly privately owned who run an international business. This makes our day-to-day work special in the sense that you are more than a legal advisor because you accompany your client over the years, in good and bad times.
We are mostly challenged not just with legal issues, but more with translating different legal systems. This is very often the case, for example, with corporate transactions and restructuring, even the implications of different regulations in labour law and the participation of the works council are very different in Germany and France. It is important to raise this with clients when they approach projects. In cross-border advice, it is more important than ever for us to work out the best structure with the applicable national regulations.
Also, even with France and Germany as neighbours, we are confronted with huge social and cultural differences that require sensitive treatment. In French mid-sized companies, you very often experience a vertical system within the internal hierarchy, while in Germany this is normally more horizontal. Often in Germany you have a group of decision makers who are involved while French companies are more managed from the top. As legal advisors we always keep this in mind while driving a process forward.
In our business it is not just a necessity to be multi-lingual, you also need to be multi-legal and multi-cultural.
LSS: It sounds like it takes much more than good legal knowledge and background to be an excellent legal advisor. Whilst preparing for our chat today, we realized another impressive fact. At Laurence Simons Search we value diversity, inclusion, and equity, and in looking at the LPA statistics, nearly 60% of lawyers are female and even on partner level the ratio is almost 50/50. Why do you think this is, as most firms are struggling with having 20% of female members within the partnership?
SH: From my perspective and experience, there is a cultural clash as well. Taking a view on this from different angles, I can clearly tell you that people and employers in France have a completely different understanding and approach to the compatibility of job, family
, and career. I have a family of my own and two children. However, I never experienced any restrictions with my job here in France because I needed time for my family. I think that a different self-image has to emerge on this topic in many countries.
LSS: Totally. Thank you very much Sandra for your insights and time. Stay safe.
SH: It was a pleasure. Thank you both, it has been lovely talking to you.