Jussi Laakkonen is a partner and CEO with Fenno Attorneys at Law, the ILN’s Finnish law firm. In this episode, Lindsay and Jussi discuss the challenges of lawyer wellbeing as the world opens up post-pandemic, how mentorship has impacted both him and his firm, and his hopes for the future law firm.
Jussi: Hello. Thank you, Lindsay. It’s great. I’m pleased to be here. Yes, our company is Fenno Attorneys at Law in Finland. We are a medium-sized law firm of about 50 experts at the moment. We have 10 offices here in Finland. And in Finland, this means that we are in about the top 20, measured by revenue. Our services are targeted, especially at companies in the SME sector and the individuals in matters like family law. My role in Finland is being a managing partner at the moment.
Lindsay: And you just were noted as being one of the fastest-growing law firms in Finland, right?
Jussi: That’s right. We have grown quite fast in the last five years. And getting through the top at the moment. But as I said, top 20 at the moment.
Lindsay: So what are your biggest challenges at the moment? Obviously, as managing partner, there’s probably a lot of those.
Jussi: That’s right. But maybe one topic, I think that it’s wellbeing. Not only… Because of that [Covid-19], we have November here in Finland and it’s not very nice at the moment. The weather, it is quite horrible and dark and rainy and cold. But of course, as you talked with Peter Algieri in this last episode of this podcast, we have quite the same kind of problems at the moment. And wellbeing is a topic because opening to the old normal, we have the same kinds of problems in the working life as the start of the lockdown in the beginning of COVID 19.
At the moment, this sounds quite weird, but it’s real. As we can remember at the beginning of COVID, the problem was kids at home or loneliness and we didn’t know what this pandemic is. But during the pandemic, working days turned really effective. No traveling, no coffee breaks, no spontaneous brainstorming, no business trips, no client even. I think that life was quite easy sometimes, also.
But of course, I think that we have missed our colleagues and this normal conduct and chit-chatting and everything like that. Of course, sometimes it would be really nice to take long coffee breaks and lunch, but the problem is at the moment, I think that it’s now that we have learned a new really effective style to work. And we have fully booked our calendars at the moment. And it’s not very easy.
And now when we are in the offices, we can reach the deadlines without long days and night shifts. And we have to learn again the calendar, right. But we will see how it is happen. But after the pandemic, it does not feel very good. Because during the pandemic, you had time for hobbies and family and even for hoovering and gardening. You may know. But really understandable at the moment. But quite hard at moment, sometimes.
Lindsay: So are you back in the office full time or are you still remote?
Jussi: We opened our offices at the beginning of November. So about two weeks ago.
At the moment, we don’t have a very good answer for the problem. But we have talked about this almost every day and maybe we will find out the best way to reserve good everyday life again.
One answer for this is a hybrid working. Like three days remotely and two days in the office or something like that. We have only one day. We have to be in the office Mondays. And that’s for the team working and development job and that kind of things. We have also that week’s meeting on Monday. It’s for the whole office or for wire teams of course. To the other offices.
Lindsay: I’m guessing even before the pandemic, having so many offices, you had used technology to keep you all together. So I’m guessing that you were already pretty adept at keeping the firm well connected.
So, do you think that was an advantage to you during the pandemic?
Jussi: When the pandemic started, we were ready for that. And we were very happy because we have laptops and those video systems and et cetera. At moment, this is quite normal for us to use these machines and that wasn’t a big problem for us in that case. I have heard that many other firms, they do not have laptops and they have to buy all the machines. And that was quite tricky in those days.
Lindsay: So then, what has been the biggest surprise to you over the last few months?
Jussi: Maybe not in the last months, but I think that it is how much this pandemic has changed our way of working. And how fast everything has changed. But I’m really happy about all these big changes. Like these video meetings and other solutions which help our everyday life. At the moment we are using electronic signatures and also for the know your customer routines. And this is amazing. Helps a lot.
Lindsay: There have been a lot of positive outcomes, even though there have been a lot of challenging things, I think about the pandemic.
What are some of the positive things that you hope will stay? Obviously, I think things like electronic signatures will stick around. But what are some of the positive things that you hope will stick around when we get back to some sort of new normal?
Jussi: I hope that video meetings will be really effective way to meet. Of course, when you met first time with someone, it is of course good to see face to face. But after that, it’s good to use these video meetings.
Lindsay: Well, and it certainly cuts down on extraneous travel. I love to travel, so I think there are certainly benefits and I know we’ve talked about that in the podcast before. But, in terms of billing the client and saving your time, I think extraneous travel, video meetings really cuts down on that.
Jussi: And saving time is really good. Like here in Finland, we have quite bad connections via train or airplane and if we can pass that, it’s good. Because when you’re traveling by car, you can’t do anything else. Of course, you can talk on the phone, but take calls.
Lindsay: So, tell me something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Jussi: I’m quite the open guy. I think that this can’t be a very, very big surprise for all people. But I think that even in our own firm most people don’t know that I’m really analytical with numbers.
I don’t know why, but I can read statistics and try to understand things for hours and sometimes days. Of course, in my role, of course, that’s sometimes a very good thing also. Especially when I’m working with budgeting or forward cast. But of course not every case, it’s not good.
Maybe you can imagine that our monthly final reports are quite good because of that.
Lindsay: I think that explains why you’re the fastest-growing firm or one of the fastest-growing firms. Now it all comes together. What’s the biggest area related to your practice or industry that you’re curious about?
Jussi: This is quite interesting. I have been and I’m still very curious about the future of the law business. We have been faced with many kinds of changes last year, but we haven’t seen anything very, very big changes. Like they have been met like in bookkeeping, business or final sales sector. And I think… And I maybe also hope that artificial intelligence and solutions regarding AI and automatic data processing will change this business a lot in the future.
But I think nowadays AI is helping us in narrow areas. Like in due diligence processing. But maybe more and more in the future also with works in other types of law, family law and in Finland, I think that there’s huge potential in those cases. And maybe other topics we have here in Finland at the moment regarding dispute resolution. Not very surprising, but the point of view is time and cost, of course. I don’t know why, but especially we are talking about mediation and how we can reach a better understanding between parties without long and expensive tryout moments. And I’m very keen to see, can we find out also in proceedings… I mean, out of court proceedings, in this case also. But we’ll see. But these two areas, I think that we have to be wake up with this.
Lindsay: Do you think, with regard to the future of law firms that given the speed of change, at least in the last two years and the acceptance of firms of new technology… This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, that firms will be more open to change because they’ve been forced to make changes with regard to technology? Or less open because they’ve been forced to make changes over the last two years?
Jussi: I think that this pandemic has helped this a lot. Because maybe we have seen also how these meetings and other solutions have helped many, many things. And of course, we may have seen that there’s huge potential to reach also goals with fast proceedings in like due diligence or something like that. We can do the same thing in one day, which we made in a week or two beforehand.
But of course, it will take time that we can use those solutions very well. And we are familiar with those.
Lindsay: You’re right. I mean, that’s always the tight rope that we walk. The difference between what we’re comfortable with versus the efficiencies that we gain. Yeah. So who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Jussi: I’m actually really happy that you are asking about mentoring because this has been quite a big topic in our own office last year. We started a mentor program in our office about a year ago. In the very first interview, almost everybody felt that the program has been really good and needed also. But about me. I think that I have been really lucky because I feel that I have had many mentors in my life. I have had a chance to learn from many people and persons with many backgrounds. And like all people’s lives, also my life is made up of different episodes. Like childhood, teenage hobbies, college, university, working life and also being a father. But if I have to raise up one name, it’s my brother Markus. He has been with me in almost every episode. And he is also a lawyer.
And now we both working at Fenno Law and that’s quite nice. And I’m really grateful to him for all the help.
The mentorship program has been really nice. And in our program, senior lawyers and partners are mentors for younger ones. And hopefully, we can share their own experiences and try to help them to avoid the same pitfalls as did.
Lindsay: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Jussi: There have been so many. But I think that maybe the easiest one to remember is, do not open your mouth before you know enough of the facts of the case. You may know why I say this. But I have learned my lesson.
Lindsay: That’s probably good life advice too.
So, then tell me about a client that’s changed your practice.
Jussi: Yes. This is a good question. And I think I remember that moment like it was yesterday. And I think that also 99% of young lawyer face this moment in their career. I was about 30 years old and I really think that I do not have enough of experience and knowledge to handle a demanding case by myself. I knew that I was quite good, in theory. I read my books. But in practice and without older lawyer, my self confidence was quite low. And what happened after that, I got a phone call from the public company, which was listed on the stock exchange of Finland. They were in trouble and planned to do an application for restructuring proceedings. And they asked me also to be an administrator for the proceedings for a turnaround. They said that bank has recommended me and because of that I have to be a right guy for the project.
And I worked really hard with the guys and the guys went quite well. And I learned much and especially of the practice and being the rest responsible lawyer in the process. And after that case, I have always talked that if I’m working really hard, I can do it. That’s it.
Lindsay: That’s great. And there’s something to that. If you work really hard, you can do it.
So, what does being a part of the ILN mean to you?
Jussi: We talked about this for a while before this recording, but we have been members for just a few years. Of course, we are just five years old, our company at moment. But I do not have a chance to participate live meetings at all. But I really waiting to see our colleagues from other countries. And hopefully this will happen quite soon. And you just tell that it happens in next spring. Yeah. Okay. But the ILN means, for me that I can find out the good lawyer for our clients from many countries. And nowadays that is very important thing, because we handle cross border cases almost every week. And via ILN, we have used our colleagues of our network in last two years from really many countries. I think that it’s over 10 countries. And this has been great. And also, during pandemic I have been really, really happy about this podcast.
Lindsay: That’s my favorite thing.
I mean, obviously I want you to use the network for legal referrals. That’s the number one thing. But I’m also very happy that the podcast is useful.
Jussi: This has been good. Thank you for that.
Lindsay: And what is… I always love to ask this question. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to other people in your position during this time?
Jussi: Hmm. This is not a sprint. This is a marathon.
Lindsay: Yes. You know I love a running metaphor.
Jussi: I have heard about that. But take care of your wellbeing every day and be what you are. There it is.
Lindsay: Well, thank you so much, Jussi, for doing the podcast. I really appreciate it. It’s been lovely chatting with you. And thank you so much to all of our listeners. Tune in next week for our next guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much.