Pierre Hurt is the managing partner of Lutgen & Associés, a firm focused on litigation support and legal counseling, and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, we welcome Pierre back to talk about the challenges of managing a firm and maintaining IT security, understanding that the law comes last when working with clients, and more challenges of running a modern law firm.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.…
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, with the International Lawyers Network.
Our guest this week is Pierre Hurt with Lutgen & Associés in Luxembourg. Pierre, we’re so glad to have you with us this week. Thank you so much for joining us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm and your practice?
Pierre: Dear Lindsay, thank you for having me. So yes, about myself, I don’t know if there are many things to say about myself. I am now the managing partner of Lutgen & Associés. I have been in that function for two years I think, or three years, I can’t remember right now. So, we are a little litigation firm in Luxembourg. Nowadays, we are nine lawyers. So, we’re still quite a small structure, but we are a small law firm with big cases. So, we often have multinational companies as clients or big public entities from Luxembourg or even from the US or from other countries. So, we are a very good company on the one hand and still remain a boutique law firm, which we always wanted to remain. And so, we are three partners for the moment, which might change in the immediate future because we have very good young people working with us who have a really bright professional future in front of them.
And we really want to have them at the next meetings of the ILN, or at least some of them, in order that you meet them because they are nice, funny, and intelligent people. So, we are developing, but we are developing slowly. And I think for a law firm in Luxembourg it’s difficult. It would be difficult if that were our intention to develop quickly because you can’t find the people. There are not enough talented people in the labor market, and they are taken away, grabbed away from the market very, very fast. So, it’s difficult to grow, but it’s possible. It’s a long-term issue unless you buy the practice from another law firm and that’s of course always a possibility.
Lindsay: Yes, the labor shortage is a challenge that firms are facing the world over and not just law firms. I think that’s a professional challenge that a lot of companies are facing. So slow growth I think is the way to go. And when you are a smaller firm like yours, the chemistry that you have with your colleagues is very important. So, I’m sure that’s something that you care about deeply as well.
Pierre: We feel a little bit like a family business. So, we are not a family business because family businesses in law firms are not really the best situation you can have, in my opinion. They exist of course, but we feel like a family, and we are quite close to one another. And so, we have a very, how do you say, warm relationship with each other. And we would like to keep that as much as possible.
Lindsay: That’s great. So, what would you say then is one of your biggest challenges at the moment and how are you working to overcome that?
Pierre: The biggest challenge definitely for us at this point in time is an entrepreneurial challenge. So is the question of the organization of the law firm. So, we are in a certain way a traditional law firm, but we have to adapt to the new challenges, to the new risks, especially of our time. And the risks because there are multiple risks. And I would say that the major risks obviously are money laundering risks. So, you have to be set up in order to be able to fight money laundering properly. And Luxembourg authorities, they have become very strict on this. So, lawyers are cooperating really seriously, in my opinion, with the authorities. We are not joking at all anymore on those questions. So, we have to be organized under this, on this topic.
Then another very important topic is data protection, which is also… So, data protection is to be implemented in the law firm, we have the EU regulation on data protection that you don’t have in the United States, but here it’s also a very serious subject matter. And behind the data protection issue is really the IT security issue. Which in my opinion is even more important because if you are hacked, your data is out and then you are in breach of data protection. But the security issue, technical security is, in my opinion, the most important one. And I would even say it’s maybe the biggest risk for a law firm today is data protection.
You still have the responsibility of the lawyers of the law firm if they make a professional mistake, but you can ensure that and the insurance we are quite used to. So, these are old mechanisms where we are used to but, IT security. I must say we are working a lot on that these days and I am really struck by the lack of transparency of the service providers. And because, if you want to find out, for instance, I give an example, which are the exact conditions or rules applicable to a cloud service of Microsoft? You will not find that on the internet. You will find thousands of things but not the information you are looking for.
And we have two IT firms working for us. We have a firm that does basic IT services and then we have an IT security firm that specializes really in IT security. And none of them are able to provide us with the documentation. Which is really, it makes me sick because as a lawyer of course we want to respect the rules. We want to respect the general regulation on data protection, but if you want to get the right information, you can’t find it. So, it is really a huge challenge for us to be compliant from that perspective. And in a certain number of years, I guess things will get better, but at this point in time it’s still, well it’s really obscure, the lack of transparency. Which strikes me.
Lindsay: I totally agree with you. And I think it’s one of those things where law firms have become more businesses and less focused on just the practice of law, which I think has really been the shift over the last decade. These things have really become a concern and firms have become the target of hackers and have moved past just advising their clients on how to deal with these issues and data breaches and those types of things. And so, you want to be confident that your data as a firm is secure and it’s difficult, as you say when there is a lack of transparency to be confident that is the case. And so, you want to be able to trust the service providers that you’re working with. But when you can’t delegate that information, that’s really difficult as a business owner.
Pierre: It is. IT firms are quite competent on technical issues, but they are not capable to advise on regulatory issues. And what they don’t understand is that the regulatory issue is as important as the technical one. Because if you have a problem in the country where your data is, and if this is a problematic jurisdiction or a jurisdiction where lawyers are very expensive for instance, it can become a huge issue. And as lawyers, we have already defended lawyers who had the data in Luxembourg and where the Luxembourg police were house searching the service in Luxembourg of foreign law firms. So, they did not go to the foreign country where the lawyers were, but they came to Luxembourg to the data center. And all the proceedings had to be done in Luxembourg. And well, Luxembourg lawyers are not as expensive as now British lawyers or American lawyers. So, this is also a real issue. And then we have just the data protection issue. The data must remain in EU jurisdictions. And what happens with the data in the US is not very clear.
Lindsay: We’re not clear on that either. And what’s interesting here is that it varies from state to state. And there are some states that are following the GDPR and some… We’re hoping that we’re going to get a little more clarity on that. And then for some of us who are operating global businesses like the ILN, we already have to follow GDPR because we have international data. We’re not very clear on it either.
Pierre: It’s worse. The whole situation.
Lindsay: It’s very stressful. We agree with you.
Pierre: No, it’s very… But the big part, I think if you have bigger law firms, they maybe have done that already. But for smaller firms like my firm, we still have to ramp up a little better with all those issues. And yes, I do not want to say that we are very bad at them now because, as I said, we have two service providers and one specific security service provider, which is not bad at all. There are many that don’t have such providers. So, we have been pen tested, that’s sort of a penetration test where your service provider tries to hack your server in order to see if it is secure. So, we did all that, but still.
Lindsay: I know it’s stressful. That’s very stressful.
Pierre: Lawyers are ignorant normally, or a lawyer like I am, on IT issues. We do everything as lawyers, but I must say IT is really tough for us.
Lindsay: Well, your role is supposed to focus on the law and not on IT.
Pierre: That is when you begin as a lawyer, you think this. And when you get more mature and experienced you realize that the most important part is not the law but the facts. And so, you always have to understand the business of your client and you must know what happened. And so, you have to specialize in various subject methods in order to understand what happened. And the law comes afterward, later on.
Lindsay: That’s true. That’s true. Well, on that note, can you talk to us about the current state of the market and what that means for you and your clients?
Pierre: Well, this is a little bit more difficult question for me because, for us, the market is the clients that come to us. So, we are not focusing on the market in order to see new opportunities, but we are waiting longer for the clients to come to us. And then of course we select them, we do not take all the cases. Really not. On the contrary, the opposite is true. So often our difficulty is getting rid of clients we do not want. In order to be focused on the segments of clients we are looking for and which are corporations. So more important, bigger clients, we are not working for small companies or for private people. There are exceptions of course. So, we have defined a sort of segment of clients and then we select from among the clients coming to us potential clients, we select the ones which fit in with our business model.
Lindsay: That’s a good position to be in.
Pierre: So, it is, yes. But I tell you, it can be anything that arrives. This morning I had a social security case. I do not know if we will do it, but just to tell you, we could do it. I had a freedom of speech case, which I will do because it’s for a regular client, a new freedom of speech case. I’m currently working on a big case of sales of steel between, an international sale of steel litigation. And then other times portfolio management goes wrong or something, an insurance aspect. Depends, what we do as litigators, you do not everything, but almost everything. We are very abiding.
Lindsay: That does mean no day is the same and it must keep it from getting boring at all.
Pierre: Yes, and you have all these surprises.
Lindsay: Yes, which is good and bad.
Pierre: Bad, yes. You never can really plan your day, which is of course. And then the worst surprise is when you arrive in the morning, you have a plan on Monday morning or Tuesday morning, you have a plan for the week and then you have a phone call from a client who says, “I have a house search from the police. They are in all the premises in our local different locations.” And then you must mobilize 5, 6, 7 lawyers immediately in order to go to different places. And you are in a huge mess for days before being able to return to your home base.
Lindsay: So best not to have too firm of a plan for the week is what you’re saying.
Pierre: Not always. Yes, remain flexible. Yes.
Lindsay: That’s really the quality you need to be a good player, remain flexible.
Pierre: Yes. Always anticipate. Now the thing is, lawyers, what is very interesting in lawyers, they are a little bit like priests or ancient oracles. Because clients want you to predict the future. What is going to happen? What will the judge do? Or how will this go? How will my transaction evolve? So, they want you to make predictions about the future. And in fact, you are making predictions on the future, and you are making predictions on your own organization of your work. And it is on a very regular basis that everything goes wrong. That is how it is, that’s life. Yes. That’s the profession.
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. So, sort of along those lines, but not really just lawyers, but what do you think great business leaders have in common?
Pierre: What do great business leaders have in common?
Pierre: Well, I think maybe just what I said, to be able to deal with the unpredictable and the unknown. So, to have this also ancient virtue of prudence, to be able to navigate in a stormy sea without knowing what the day after will be exactly. So, you have to plan in an uncertain world, the contingency, I think is the right word. In French will be “contingence”. The contingency of human existence to navigate through that. That was maybe the most important for a decision-maker. Also, for a politician. If you look at the pandemic when you may have to make decisions about the virus, which you don’t understand. That is typical for the contingency of life, and which makes good decision makers to make the good, the right decisions in such a situation.
Lindsay: Maybe that’s why there are so many lawyers in politics.
Pierre: Yes, but that’s also because they love to speak.
Lindsay: That too.
Pierre: But true, yes.
Lindsay: So, do you think that it’s possible for there to be a work-life balance as a lawyer?
Pierre: That is the biggest challenge of our time, truly speaking. Because I would say that the job of a lawyer has become more complex because of the new risks that have appeared and the new obligations that you have. Be it AML, be it security. So, there are more risks. Also, legal risks on the one hand, and on the other hand, lawyers in the past, the famous lawyers, they have always been men. And they had for sure very good and strong wives that supported them. And now we are in a situation where our spouses are in similar situations to us as lawyers, or they are even lawyers. And so, it becomes almost impossible, I find if you have children if you are both working, to go on doing the job.
And the difficulty is really, well… So, you have to, you must change your organization. And that is the difficulty. How to organize in order to still make it possible to be a lawyer in a modern society. And that is really, for us, we are thinking a lot about it. We are discussing a lot about it as fathers. The fathers in my law firm take afternoons off in order to be with their children.
But it’s true that still in this situation, it remains difficult. So, to find the right organization I also think that it’s a question of time. Maybe in 20, 30 years it will be easier, I don’t know. And then I also heard from the ILN meetings we had already, that in certain jurisdictions like in Norway, I remember they have already changed their organization more than we did here on in our countries.
And that’s why I like the ILN. One of the reasons is to have those discussions and to hear what is happening in other countries. And I remember that somebody told us that if you would not take your off time for your children in Norway, your colleagues, would really look after you. Well, they would really not appreciate that if you did not take your child time. And we have not arrived there yet.
Lindsay: We haven’t either. That’s not the case in the US for sure. Definitely not. That’s really interesting to hear. I hadn’t heard that about Norway. And I hope that we get that way here in the US at some point too. That would be great.
Pierre: It would be a very good subject matter also for one of our conferences. How to organize to be a law firm in a modern society, which must be adapted to the individuals. It’s not possible anymore, in my opinion, to have those vertical organizations where you have orders coming from the top and where everybody is treated the same way. Because people, if they are in different situations, you cannot treat them the same way if you want to be fair. So, you must adapt. I have colleagues who have quite some children at home and who are brilliant. So, you want to keep them. You want them to feel secure at their job. You want them to feel good at their job. You want to have them with you. But of course, they cannot work the same time they worked before when they didn’t have children. So, you cannot say like in the big law firms, everybody has to invoice seven hours per day. I mean, come on.
Pierre: It’s impossible.
Lindsay: And at the same time, you don’t want the burden to have to fall on single people with no children because then they’ll end up being resentful of people who have children. So that’s the flip side. So, that is a great discussion for a conference to see whether there is somewhere in the world that’s figured it out. I don’t know if there is, but just to see collectively what people can come up with.
Pierre: Yes, how everybody a little bit deals with the subject matter. But we also always say it’s no problem if you work less, when you work less, you earn less. So, it’s on everybody who has to make the decision for himself. But again, for lawyers, it’s difficult to anticipate the quantity of work you will have because one case can change everything in a minute.
Lindsay: That’s true. As you say, you are only oracles to a point.
Pierre: Yes. And I guess that even antique oracles make mistakes.
Lindsay: Yes, sometimes lawyers make mistakes when predicting the future. Rarely, but once in a while.
Lindsay: So, to wrap up, what is one thing, I always like to ask this question, what is one thing that you’re enjoying right now that has nothing to do with work?
Lindsay: I know it’s always the toughest question.
Pierre: Okay, I have three jobs. So the main job, lawyer. Second main job, father. Third, that is not my main job, I am also a professor at the university, but only an invited professor. So, I don’t have too many hours on that side. So, is there still some time left for something? Well, I am still doing some research and so I, that’s for me my secret garden. But I cannot do a lot of research because I do not have a lot of time of course. And I’m too tired in the evening or in night. But I still go on reading on specific subject matters that I like in the hope that one day I will have the time to write. Some time, yes.
Lindsay: I love that. That’s great. That’s wonderful.
Lindsay: Well, thank you so much for joining us this week, Pierre. I really appreciate it. This has been wonderful and thank you so much to all of our listeners. We’ll be back next week with another guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much.