Andreas Bauer is a partner with BRAUNEIS, the ILN’s member firm in Vienna, Austria. In this episode, he and Lindsay discuss the war on talent, the ever-increasing pace of technology and its impact on both the practice of law and how young lawyers are trained, and the continuing impact of the pandemic on the legal industry.
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, Lindsey Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Andreas Bauer with Brauneis in Vienna, Austria. Andreas, welcome. We’re really glad to have you this week. Thank you for joining us.
Andreas: Thanks for the invitation.
Lindsay: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm and your practice?
Andreas: Okay. I’m a Lawyer. I’m 58 years of age. I’m working in Vienna, Austria in one of the biggest medium-sized law firms of Vienna. We are around fifty people, seven partners, about another seven to ten lawyers, the rest of our staff. We are a law firm that’s concentrating on many parts of the Austrian economy, so we are pretty broad situated. I myself, I am working for a few trusts. On the one hand I have a few industry clients, a few private clients, so that’s all more or less the same with all of us. We have partners with specialties like IP, and we have a partner that is fluent in Bulgarian. We are a classical center of Europe law firm, and we like that very much. It’s a nice way to do this business, not too big, not too small. We can handle nearly everything from our size and our capacity. But we are not a big law firm.
I don’t have to report to any business manager on how many hours I have built this week or so. And to be honest, I’m very glad that I don’t have such a manager. That’s about us. We are very well integrated in the International Lawyers Network, which gives us much contact, especially to our neighboring countries, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany. We are definitely doing 20% of our work is cross border, so that’s an important part for our business.
Lindsay: Yes. I would imagine being so well situated in Europe that it would be necessary to have ties to an international organization, because you would necessarily need best friends to cross borders.
Andreas: Yes. Austria is pretty small. We are nine million people, so lots of business is going abroad across some borders somewhere. But we have been very much used to that since many, many years.
Lindsay: Absolutely. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment and how are you working to overcome that?
Andreas: The biggest challenge in the moment is, as we call it, the problem with the baby boom generation. The baby boom generation is on the brink of retiring. Then within the next 10 years, at least Austria alone, will lose about 20,000 qualified employees per year over the time. The later generations have much less people than these baby boomers. And it’s getting increasingly difficult to find qualified personnel and to find personnel that is also willing and interested in this job. Everybody is talking about work life balance, nobody’s talking about, “I want to do a good job.” This is a real problem and there’s already going to be a war on finding and recruiting good personnel. And this is the biggest challenge for the next years in my point of view.
Lindsay: Absolutely. And I’m curious going hand in hand with that, something we’ve been talking about I think since the pandemic, is that returning to the office has been very difficult for some companies, because when you want to train people but they want to do more remote work, it’s difficult to have people who are in the office and connected and being able to be trained in the same way that people in our generation and above were trained. Are you finding similar difficulties with that?
Andreas: Very, very much. In my point of view, our job as lawyers is nothing you can do only remote. If you have to prepare for a meeting for a court hearing, you can go home, take your file with you, study the file at home and go to court, that’s no problem. But during the day-to-day work, these talks at the coffee machine, at the copy machine, whatever. Part of my work is getting up from my table, going to the next room and asking my associates, “Do you need assistance? What are you working on? How far has this matter gone?” For all this, every time if I would have to take up the phone, call this guy, the guy is just taking a break when you call, always. He’s just getting out with the dog, whatever. You never reach them. It’s terrible.
We had of course, during the pandemic quite a lot of remote work, but since the end of the pandemic, most of our people have returned to the office, and which has the big advantage that as a boss, as a partner, you are also able to build up again the social connections. The people like to come to the office, you take through your time and drink a cup of coffee with them, and also associate with another partner, whatever. And if the people are socially connected in the firm, the tendency to change firms is much lower than if you are just sitting at home in front of your computer and you have no social connections within your own firm.
In my point of view, we have a lot of big insurance companies and banks, where still 50% of the people are at home. I think that in the medium term, these firms will get quite problems, because the tendency of people to change will rise extremely. And combined with the problem I mentioned before, finding qualified personnel, if you are a company where people are very easily leaving, you double your problem of not finding and not being able to recruit sufficiently qualified personnel.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Yes. Those are two really big issues and I wonder how the next 10 years is going to play out given those two very big issues. Talk to us about the current state of the market and what that means for you and your clients.
Andreas: For the market, after COVID and the war in Ukraine, I’m still astonished how stable the whole market here in Europe is. I thought when Mr. Putin started his tiny little war in Ukraine, I thought that Europe would be in much more problems than we see until now. One part of the market is really down, that’s the real estate business due to the high inflation, due to the higher interest rates paid for loans, whatever. The interest in newly built flats, in new houses has diminished rapidly within the last 12 months. And honestly, I don’t see a change within the next 12 to 18 month in this respect. We had an overheated market, the real estate market due to high prices, due to high service prices also, all the building construction companies were extremely expensive.
The books of the big entities are still quite full, so they will have no problem in 2023, but we expect that the books will be empty in twenty-four. And I personally also expect that construction prices will go down after that. And a certain segment of the market is, as long as the inflation is high and the interest is high, we’ll not be able to take a loan and buy a flat. A part of the market is just dead, and it will take quite a long time to get back to normal at least.
Lindsay: Yes. And that’s a real challenge for some people I think, which might have a knock-on effect.
Andreas: Yes. The inflation is still too high in Europe. I don’t think it will go down as fast as we would like it to be. Very important will be the next round of raises. In the autumn in Austria, all the unions come together, and they start negotiations with the employers on raising the payments for the people. And we expect far too high raises in this respect. And this will of course keep the inflation high and put heat on the inflation situation. It will be necessary that everybody takes back a little bit of their interest to lower the inflation rates significantly.
Lindsay: Certainly. What is the biggest area that’s related to your practice that you are curious about?
Andreas: The biggest area? I’m really curious about the impact of artificial intelligence on our business. I think this will be really interesting. Nearly nobody knew ChatGPT six months ago. Now everybody’s talking about, especially Romana, my wife who is a teacher, who says that homework doesn’t make any sense because she reads ten times the same ChatGPT created homework. There will be many changes to that. I’m very curious of what changes this will bring to our profession. I still think you will probably be able to prepare certain things much faster than before, but the guidance that the lawyer should provide for his clients, you will never be able to substitute that by artificial intelligence. It may help you with texts, with court papers, whatever, but the final decision will still be with the lawyers. But I’m very curious how this will go on within the next one or two years, three years, very fast, I think
Lindsay: Yes. I agree with you, and I do hope that that’s the case, that it will free up lawyers to do what they’re really good at, obviously senior lawyers, who is giving advice, really substantive advice to their clients. As you say, I’m really interested to see where it goes. I know in the US we’ve already had two cases of lawyers being fined because they’ve used ChatGPT without actually checking the references.
Andreas: Even in Europe, we have heard about these stories. Very funny.
Lindsay: Yes. At least check before you hand that over to the judge. Come on. But the other impact, I think obviously cases like that should make people cautious, but when you see and you think about the utility of it in those cases, you think about it as a senior lawyer and it’s like, “Okay, well that could be really useful because it’ll free me up from some of the more tedious work that I’m doing to really advise my clients as a more senior lawyer.” But then I think of it from the junior lawyers and how are they going to really learn to give the advice that you as a partner already have learned to do? You don’t want it to take away from the experience that they gain over time. And I wonder how they’ll gain that experience if ChatGPT is going to do it for them.
Andreas: These are the same thoughts that I have because giving advice is easy if you have experience for many, many years. And if you have no chance to get this experience, then it’s getting difficult. But I think that especially for associates, the learning will change over time. We see it, when I was an associate, we had to look up everything in books. This is long gone. All our associates have two screens on the table and have the electronic books on the one hand and the file on the other hand, and then they switch and put copy and paste and put it into their computer, very well done. And this will be the next step. They will have to adapt and learn differently, but it will become more difficult and probably we will need less, a lower number of associates, which are, by the way anywhere, not to be found here in Austria at least.
That will perhaps bring some help with it. What we have already seen within the last two years or so, is translations. Since we are a small country, we have just neighbors only the Swiss and the Germans speak German and all the other neighbors don’t do that, so we always had lots of translation work for clients from abroad and this has become much, much easier, translating programs much better. And so, they are really good. Of course, like everything, you have to check it afterwards, but you put the file in the program, it translates it within seconds and then you take your time and then correct it for an hour or so. But that was 10 years ago, when you needed a day for that and not an hour. That’s here, really a big change has taken place and its tedious work and not really lawyers work to translate pages of court decisions, whatever.
Lindsay: Right. As you say, a lot of people are afraid that technology will take certain jobs away and it does, but it also gives jobs to people in a different way, so as things change, things change.
Andreas: Right. And as we all know, you can’t stop technical advances. No way.
Lindsay: No. It’s not worth trying.
Andreas: Yes. No, it’s not worth trying. You’re right.
Lindsay: Tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Andreas: I already said I’m 50 years of age and I love soccer and I’m still playing once a week soccer. We are still a group of students that started after high school to play soccer every Friday evening. And we still keep up with that after 40 years this year. And it’s much fun. It’s terrible. And Saturday morning I always think, “How will I get out of my bed? Everything hurts.” But it’s still big fun. And I really try to keep the Friday off, no invitations, no social get togethers, so I’m able to keep my soccer game up. And I hope I still can do it for a few years. We have, of course, a lot of people who have already left because of broken ligaments, whatever. It’s, of course, a terrible sport for elderly people. But I love it. That’s probably something not everybody knows about me.
Lindsay: That’s wonderful. I love that you’re still doing that after 40 years. That’s great. I wonder how many people can say that.
Lindsay: Who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Andreas: That’s a good question. I had a few senior partners in my life, but they have gone with me for part of my way. But more or less my wife Romana, because that sounds a little bit old-fashioned for today’s younger people. But besides her own job, she has taken care of our kids and has given me more or less the opportunity to concentrate on my job and on my career. And that’s probably the biggest support for my career, was Romana my wife.
Lindsay: I love that. That’s really wonderful. What would you say most people misunderstand about your field of work?
Andreas: That’s probably the problem for every advisor, it always looks very easy, and nobody sees the work behind the scenes. You take your cases home, you take your cases to sleep, you wake up and think about your cases, and then you’re giving advice and then your client says, “It was only 15 minutes of work. Why is he billing so much?” This is probably the biggest misunderstanding. It’s by far more work than it looks like.
Lindsay: Well, maybe if you’re doing it right. It’s much more work.
Andreas: Yes. That’s right. That’s something I think that a lawyer who wants to be lawyer is trying to do, is deliver good advice, and that’s work.
Lindsay: Yes. Absolutely. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career?
Andreas: That’s always something I tell my associates, it’s to listen, which is to listen to your opponent or to your client even, but at court to listen to the opponent. And the second thing is to think twice before you answer. And the third is, the most difficult thing in our job is to keep your mouth shut in the necessary moment. I think it’s the most difficult thing. You have a client sitting at court beside you, there is some testimony in front of the judge, and everybody is expecting from you, courtroom movies that you are now asking the most brilliant questions. But sometimes it’s much better to keep your mouth shut, to not ask anything, to say, “Thank you. Goodbye. I have no questions.” The client is upset, “Why isn’t he asking anything?” But if you notice that this testimony has the ability to hurt your case, get rid of him as soon as possible with as few questions as possible.
I always tell my associates, “Just think if it’s really necessary to ask this question. Keep your mouth shut if it’s not really helping the case.” And this is really difficult, even after many years, I’m doing this job more than 30 years, so still I’m always thinking, “Is the next question bringing anything better for my client or do I give the testimony the chance to deposit a little bit more that is in my disadvantage?” And if this is the case, don’t ask.
Lindsay: That’s good life advice too, I think. If you’re not adding to the conversation, it’s probably better to just not say anything.
Lindsay: Is there a client that’s changed your practice? I know this is always a hard one.
Andreas: Yes, that’s a hard one. A client changed my practice.
Lindsay: Or impacted your practice?
Andreas: By pure luck, I got to know a guy who just opened up 10 years ago, business for photovoltaic. He installs photovoltaic on houses all over Europe, all over Austria mainly. And this was a very, very small firm, just three people starting a new business. Today, they are 140 people, still my client, which is very nice. And they are very, very successful. And the owners are two very funny guys, hardworking, decent people, but very funny. And they have probably influenced my view on alternative energy and on how to provide alternative energy all over the country. I’ve learned quite a lot of technical questions. If you sit at court and you have a court hearing, you have, of course, to prepare also from the technical point of view. And over the years I’m become quite experienced in some induced electrical engineering somehow, if you can put that this way.
And of course, since Ukraine war, they don’t know where to start. There’s a huge boom of alternative energy here in Europe, because Austria got 80% of its natural gas from Russia, 80%. And with 20th of February 2022, it was clear that this will won’t go on. We still received gas from Russia, but of course nobody knows how long. And so many people are trying to get alternative heating, alternative electricity. That’s a huge boom here in Australia and all over Europe more or less.
Lindsay: Right. Yes. That’s become a huge opportunity for them, I’m sure. That’s great. What does being a part of the ILN mean to you?
Andreas: Oh, 2024, I will be a member of the ILN for 30 years. That’s how old I am. Terrible. What does it mean? We mentioned that a little bit already in the beginning of our talk, for us, it’s somehow the window to the neighboring countries. We can offer our clients in Austria, you need somebody in Slovakia, in Czech Republic, in Croatia, in Italy. I know somebody personally, I will call him for you, I have arranged the contact to this lawyer, and this is a very important part in our business and it’s getting increasingly important over the years. But that’s only business wise. Many of the colleagues that are also since many, many years in the network, they all became friends for years and years. And I really don’t want to miss this social part of the network.
I always say a little bit, it’s also a travel club, which is also very nice. I would never travel to Northern Ireland, and I thought this weekend in Northern Ireland a few years ago was very nice, remote corners of Europe or even other parts of the world. I’ve seen over the years, meeting friends there, meeting colleagues there. Austria is not the center of the world. Many changes, I can remember the first network firms in introducing, telling them, “We now have a website.” “In Austria, what’s a website?” “Nothing.” The first time I heard that was over the network and very soon, “Okay, we need that too. And we need it soon.” We were also one of the first firms here in Austria getting a website. Today, that sounds crazy, but it’s just a few years ago.
It has many different layers. I enjoy very much the friendship of many of the lawyers in the network. And of course, the opportunities that this network gives, not only receiving referrals, but also having the opportunity to give referrals to people where I really know that these referrals are handled. I had a case in Italy for years going on and finally we have won it, and of course, represented by our Italian law firm. Very good experience over the years. Very fast answers. If I need something and I writing an email, I’m usually getting on the same day or on the next day and answer, “Yeah, we are looking on the matter. We will check that. We’ll get back to you.” It works really well.
Lindsay: I’m so glad to hear that. Very glad to hear that. And to finish one final question, outside of your business and everything going on right now, what is one thing that you are enjoying?
Andreas: Time with my family, more or less. My kids are grown up. It’s so easy that I know that I’ll soon be a member for 30 years, because when we flew to the first network meeting, our son Valentine was just six-month-old and giving it to my mother-in-law, leaving our kid the first time for a week alone was pretty difficult, especially for Romana. And now this boy is 30 years old, working as a manager in a small Austrian company, still playing semi-professional basketball, twice the size I am, is great fun. Having time with the family is probably what I really enjoy.
Lindsay: That’s wonderful. I’m so glad to hear it. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Andreas. I’m really happy that we got the chance to chat and thank you so much to all of our listeners. We will 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.