Bas Ebels is a partner at UdinkSchepel in The Hague, Netherlands, where he focuses on insolvency & restructuring law. In this episode, Lindsay and Bas (who share a birthday!) discuss work/life balance, misconceptions about restructuring law, and how a good mentor can really impact your career.
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence podcast. I’m your host Lindsay Griffiths, executive director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Bas Ebels from UdinkSchepel in the Netherlands in The Hague. Bas, welcome. We’re really excited to have you with us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm? We’d love to hear more about you.
Bas: Thank you, Lindsay, thank you for having me. So I’m at the UdinkSchepel law firm. We are a boutique corporate law firm in The Hague. And The Hague, obviously the city of global justice. So we tend to provide legal services for all kinds of corporate clients and try to be a full-service office. We concentrate on M&A, restructuring, and corporate litigation. I think those are the three main parts of our office. Our clients range from the bigger medium-sized companies and big companies. And we also have a lot of governmental organizations as clients, like the Municipal of The Hague is a client of us. And the province of South Holland is a client of ours. So yeah, I’m trying to think. You gave me the chance to tell ILN something at our latest conference in Amsterdam. I’m trying to think what I said then, and I’m forgetting now, but boutique corporate law firm, that’s what everybody should remember, I guess.
I started here as a young lawyer 17 years ago, and have been with the firm all those years. And I’m a partner now at the restructuring desk of our firm.
Lindsay: Great, so let’s dive right into our questions. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment? I feel like everyone has a lot of challenges at the moment. It’s a challenging world out there, but what is your biggest challenge?
Bas: First thing that came to mind is I have three kids at home, young kids. Six, four, and one. And my biggest challenge really is having a family life, being there for my family, and combining that with the working life, and office life. I guess this is maybe a different approach and a generation gap here as to the partners that I grew up with as a young lawyer, but seeing them going from marriage to marriage and being all the time at the office, seeing my parents work a lot. My generation, I think we do it differently. That means leaving earlier, trying to be there, putting the kids to bed, and maybe doing some work in the evening when the kids are asleep.
But yeah, basically that’s the biggest challenge I’m seeing right now. I mean, globally speaking, of course, it’s weird times, but to be honest, I don’t see that many challenges, I guess, I see more opportunities. But yeah, when you sent me this question the first thing that came into mind is this. And I’m sure a lot of people of my generation are struggling with this challenge, keeping up family life and work life. The work-life balance has become much more important, I guess, over the last few years. And well, my kids being so young right now, that’s a big challenge.
Lindsay: I’m curious whether, I mean, obviously the pandemic has been so difficult and so hard for everyone, but I’m wondering if that has made it more acceptable from a work perspective for you and for others of our generation to have that work-life balance in that, as you say, you can leave earlier and do work from home because people know that you’re going to be doing the work from home. They know we’re all capable of working from home and getting that accomplished. So do you think that’s made it more acceptable?
Bas: Certainly it has. For me personally, I was not able to work from home because of the kids. I’ve fled to the office all the time. And during the pandemic, when everybody worked at home, I was one of the few who was able to go to the office and work from the office. But I have the privilege to live very close to my office. But for the other lawyers, the younger lawyers, and from our employees. Yeah, it’s one of the things that surprised me actually from the pandemic. And that is how well the working from home went and the thing we’re doing right now, Lindsay, the video calling, I mean, the pandemic is mostly gone right now. Let’s see how this works out if people listen to this in a couple of months, but all my calls that used to be phone calls are now video calls. We do a lot of Zoom and Teams meetings.
And I actually like a lot looking each other, looking each other in the eye, it works for me better than having a call with someone or more people. But yeah, the working from home, I can’t say I was surprised, maybe that’s hindsight talking. I was a little worried about how it would work out, but it worked out really well. And we have lawyers and employees all over the country, people who have to travel long distances to go to the office. And for those, it has been an outcome to work two days at home and three days at the office or have a completely different work-life balance than before. There was a Dutch soccer player who said, “Every disadvantage has advantages.” And this is one of the big advantages of the pandemic obviously. And we’re very happy with that and we support our employees to do that, to work more from home. And so, yeah.
Lindsay: I would agree with that. I think none of us want the pandemic and would do it again. But I think you have to look for those silver linings because that’s really the only choice that we have.
Bas: And whole office buildings are changing right now, right? The way we look at offices, the way we look at elevators, how big, and small they have to be and how big rooms have to be and we have a lot of flex rooms where more than one lawyer can work at. It’s a whole different approach to having an office to working from an office. And yeah, that was a good thing we got out of the pandemic.
That was one of the other big surprises that came into my mind is how good it was when it eventually ended, and you were allowed to see each other face to face. How good it was to meet everybody, for example, in Amsterdam at the conference. And how good it was to finally meet each other face to face after two years of sitting in the office. I mean, working from home has its advantages, but the best thing is just to see each other in real life and talk to each other in real life. And that was a good thing seeing all of you again, in Amsterdam.
Lindsay: I completely agree. I think there are benefits to virtual meetings and I think we’re going to need them and use them. As you said, these, “face-to-face” meetings that we have through Zoom and Teams and other virtual platforms are really important and they have their uses. And I think we’re going to be intentional about how we use those going forward, but it does make us more grateful for the opportunities we have to meet each other in person. And I think the combination of the two is really what’s very important.
So tell us something interesting about yourself that nobody else knows.
Bas: Except the fact that you, me, and who was it again? Nicholas Cage?
Bas: Are birthday twins?
Lindsay: Yes, that’s right.
Bas: Well, we’ve said that before so people know that. I think one thing, and not a lot of people know about me, is that although I am originally from the North of the Netherlands, a region where … I grew up there. Region. Well, people from the bigger cities in Holland, Amsterdam, and The Hague find that region a little bit more farmer-like and not as open-minded maybe as they think they are. And a little bit harder to talk to. But I don’t think a lot of people know I’m actually born in the Dutch Caribbean. The whole different part of the world is on an island called Curaçao, which is an island in front of the coast of Venezuela.
So the Dutch have a couple of islands in the Caribbean because of our history as one of the former colonizing European countries. And there are six islands in the Dutch Caribbean, and I was born on one of those islands. So I have both the Northern Dutch heritage in me, as well maybe a little Caribbean heritage in me. I sometimes go back to Curaçao, it’s very nice, I can recommend it to everybody. It’s the country next to Aruba, which is maybe a little bit more famous for Americans. A lot of American tourists go to Aruba. Well, the island next to Aruba is Curaçao and I was born there.
Lindsay: That’s very cool.
Bas: Yeah. 43 years ago.
Lindsay: That’s definitely something people would not know about you. That’s very cool. Interesting. Okay. So switching gears, who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Bas: Who do you think?
Lindsay: I have a guess, but for our listeners …
Bas: My biggest mentor has been and still is, is Marc Udink, founder of our office. He’s not the founder of ILN, but definitely one of the first members of ILN. And as a lot of our members who know him know he is, well, quite a character. I’ve learned a lot from Marc. Marc is not your typical lawyer. He taught me not to think as a lawyer. Actually, he tends to tell everybody how much he dislikes lawyers being one himself. But no, he taught me, “Use the law as a tool, but there are more tools in your toolbox. Have the law as a basis of your practice, but don’t over-legalize everything. And look at the cases from the perspective of your client, look at the case as a director of a company or as a minister in politics.”
He always says, “Try to zoom out, try to sit on the moon and look back at the earth. And if you’re looking from such a distance to the case, then the legal part of a case is just so small that it becomes non-existent anymore. And then when you have a broader view of the case, try to zoom in. And then when you’re zooming in, try to use the law as your tool.” But lawyers, since they’re so comfortable in the law and tend to hide or dive into the law and only think from a legal perspective. And then they either misunderstand their client or miss certain key elements of a certain case. And yeah, Marc is very good at that. He is, tactically speaking, very, very political wise. Very good. And I’m still learning from him.
The other day I had a meeting with him and he keeps amazing me with his approach that is so creative and out of the box that I’m glad at the conference, he said that as well, he’ll be around for the next couple of years. And I told him if he’s old, I’ll keep visiting him and try to use, or lend his brain to look at some certain cases. When you’re stuck, he can definitely see it out of the box and he looks at cases from a certain perspective that no other lawyer would do, and it helps you all the time. So yeah, it has definitely been Marc Udink. I hope he listens to this.
As you know as well, we do have quite a lot of characters in the ILN network obviously, but there’s no one to compare him, just like there are other characters in the network and he’s definitely one of those.
Lindsay: So how about a client that’s changed your practice? I mean, I think we all have those lawyers, those people who are a part of our career that we’ve worked for. But how about on the other side, a client that’s really made a difference in your career?
Bas: I have to go back to the same client that we took to the conference that had the presentation with me, the client itself, was not the client that changed my life or my professional life. But it was the case that we did. So the client was a health insurance company, but the case we did together was there was a case that got me into healthcare, healthcare law. My dad is a doctor. So I have a connection with healthcare. I’ve had that always, but it was the first case that got me into healthcare law. It was a big company employee-wise, but it was a big company client-wise as well, with a hundred thousand clients, depending on this healthcare. And it again shows you that law is only just a small part of life.
And life is more than solving a case or more than a law book. It’s about people. It’s about the employees who work there. It’s about the clients that they take care of. So it is for more than one reason, a case and a client that changed my life. It got me into healthcare. It showed you why we do this. Why do we help people? When I tell my friends, I’m in restructuring, most of the time they tell me, “Oh, you must have a horrible professional life because all you see is misery.” But that is one of the things I think people misunderstand about restructuring, right? It’s not the misery you bring. Restructuring is not destructive, right? You bring solutions and you try to make … Well, it’s an essential part of economics and an essential part of capitalism that companies go bankrupt.
But in the end, you bring a solution in which the employees and the clients can go on with either a new company or a new employee. So in the end, you bring, I would say joy with the solutions that you make in cases like that. So people think being in restructuring is only misery. Well, that’s not the case. We do not destruct. We build and we certainly come in at a stage in the life of the company. That’s not one of the best stages in that company, but it’s satisfying to help them, to help the employees keep their job to have the clients have the care that they need. And so, yeah. That is a satisfying part of my job.
Lindsay: Right. You’re bringing them hope.
Bas: I’m bringing them hope, I’m bringing them solutions. And what people don’t understand is, if we wouldn’t have bankruptcies and restructuring, then something would be wrong with our economy, right? We would be much more in a … You tend to go to a communistic approach of companies and, well, that’s something you have seen in last years in the pandemic as well, right? When there were hardly any bankruptcies, because of all the companies that were subsidized by the government and all those companies were basically ill patients before the pandemic.
And they were kept alive by the government by subsidizing. And now, they have extended their life for two years, but has that been better for the company? Will that turn out to be better for the employees and the clients of those companies? Maybe not, maybe they should have gone bankrupt before. So clients and employees could find a better solution. And we see that now here as well. I mean, the subsidies have ended. People have to pay back their government taxes and bankruptcies go up and you ask yourself, “Was it necessary to keep them alive the last two years in the pandemic? Or should the really ill companies have gone bankrupt before, because there was no reason to keep them alive?”
Interesting how this will work out in the next couple of months since we have this economy that was artificially held up the last couple of two years. And that’s one of the things I’m curious about how it will turn out in the next couple of months. And we see that already a lot in the hotel business and the restaurant business, but we’ll see how that turns out for other practices in the Dutch economy.
Lindsay: Absolutely. We didn’t have the same here in the U.S. because we didn’t have the same subsidies. So I’m curious to see how it will impact other economies versus what happened here in the U.S.
So what’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned over your career? I know that’s a broad question.
Bas: Good question. Good question. The most important lesson I’ve learned, or the most important lesson that was given to me was given to me by my mother, I guess, who told me when I first started as a lawyer, “Always be nice to your secretaries. They do the job for you. And realize work is not always fun and interesting and cool and work is a lot of times also just work.” And there’s a reason why I’m still with the same office that I started 17 years ago. I’ve seen a lot of my colleagues and friends who switched from company to company thinking, that work would be better at another company. And obviously, it’s not always more often. It’s not. There’ll be bullies and cranky bosses at every company and work is not always work.
My generation grew up thinking they had to have the best job that paid them the most which gave them the highest status but also gave them the opportunity to give them most free time, to have the best friends, to travel. Things like that can’t work. I mean, work is most of the time also just work and it’s fun to have a job that is interesting and is fun to do, but yeah. Realize that it is not always that and realize that the alternative is not always better than what you’re doing right now. So I think those were two lessons my mom gave me that I’m grateful for that she did. And brought me where I am right now. So, yeah.
Lindsay: Those are good lessons. Yeah. And you’re right because you don’t see longevity much these days.
And, I’m 18 years at the ILN, so I feel the same way.
Bas: We know what we’re talking about.
And we’ve seen it in our group of friends probably, it doesn’t work that way. I mean, you can’t have it all, sometimes working is not fun. Thankfully, you get paid for it, and be grateful for what you have and be grateful for the moments that you have the interesting client and the cool case, and be grateful for the free time you have to spend with your family or to go on holiday. Yeah.
Lindsay: That’s very true. That’s very true. And speaking of the ILN, what does being part of the ILN mean to you?
Bas: Good question again, Lindsay. So we are from as being from such a small country as we are, the Netherlands. We always tend to look to our neighbors. We are a very international country. We are literally the Harbor of Europe, I guess, even more since Brexit, when a lot of British companies came to the Netherlands, for instance. So we are by nature, I guess, very international and by nature, looking at other countries by nature, very European. What I really like about the ILN is the high standard that it has, what’s the word I’m looking for you? So I don’t have to worry about the standards of the other law firms that are in the network. And the idea that you give a client to someone you know, someone you’ve spent time with, not necessarily on a legal basis, but on a friendly basis as well, even more on a friendly basis. If I speak for myself, it is a hard thing to hand over clients to a different lawyer because there’s trust involved and lawyers are not good at giving cases away because they give clients away and they give trust away.
And if you can trust that your fellow ILN lawyers are as good as yourself, and you know they’re nice people, like we have in the ILN network, because we have spent time with each other on a friendly basis. And I don’t have to worry about legal standards because I know those are met and those are good. Then I can hand over my clients with a good heart. So we are or some of us. And if I speak for myself, I’m for example, a part of the INSOL Europe as well, another network for Insolvency Lawyers in Europe, you hardly get any work from the INSOL Europe network.
People keep their work to themselves. And conferences are about the legal situations in different jurisdictions, which I’m not necessarily interested in how the judicial system in Hungary is, or in Greece is, or in Portugal, is if I know, if I can pick up the phone and call a Portuguese lawyer from our network, for example, and ask him, or send them an email. So it sounds a little bit cheesy, but it is like a big family. And I really feel like that. And I know people who are not the best networkers and not the people who tend to love to go to conferences who actually like going to the ILN conferences and like being part of the ILN network. And I think that speaks for itself.
Lindsay: It’s true. It’s true. I really appreciate that.
Bas: You’re shining.
Lindsay: I do feel like we’re a big family, so I like hearing it.
And one final question before we wrap up that I always like to ask everyone, and that is, what is one thing you’re really enjoying right now, aside from work and everything else?
Bas: I am waiting for the next episode of this show. You probably know, because I know it’s popular in the U.S. as well, Better Call Saul to come out.
It is airing, I guess tomorrow, the next episode. I don’t know if you’re watching it.
It is very popular. Yeah. I’m enjoying that. I’m enjoying, well, the weather is getting better here. I’m looking outside and I see the sun and we are at the beach. The Hague is the city at the beach. So I like to go to the beach with my kids in the weekends if I can. And good question. I started a new sport. It’s called Padel. It’s very popular in Spain and it’s a crossing between tennis and squash.
It’s sort of outdoor squash thing where you play tennis, but within walls. And I started playing Padel. So I’m actually enjoying that at the moment.
Lindsay: Good. Good. Well, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate that. This has been great.
So thank you so much. And thank you so much to all of our listeners. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe when you have a moment on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, and we will be back next week with our next guest. Thank you so much.
Bas: Thank you for having me, Lindsay.