Daniel García Piñeros is the managing partner of Gamboa, García & Cardona Abogados, the ILN’s member firm for Colombia. In this episode, he and Lindsay chat about the evolving world of compliance, both for law firms and companies, in Colombia, the challenges of the availability of technology when butting up against a truly technical legal system, and why being a service-driven business remains ultimately about people.
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 ILN-telligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, executive director with the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Daniel Garcia with Gamboa, Garcia & Cardona in Bogota, Colombia.
Daniel, welcome. We’re so happy to have you with us. We’d love for you to take a few moments to introduce yourself and the firm and your practice.
Daniel: Okay. Okay, thank you. Thank you very much for the introduction and thank you very much for having us here and for considering our firm to be in this podcast. Very thrilled to be here. As you’ve said, I’m the managing partner at Gamboa, Garcia & Cardona. We are a mid-size firm in Colombia, and we’ve been practicing law for the past 12 years.
Today, we are about forty lawyers, and we handle most of the practice area related or that companies or our clients need, in order to do business here in Colombia. We handle litigation, labor law, we have an IP practice area, we have taxes, we have corporate. We are trying or making a big effort, in order to get ahold or increase our number of practice area in the remainder of the year. That’s what we basically do.
Lindsay: That’s great. I’m guessing that as managing partner, you have a specialized look at the overview of the firm. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment and how are you working to overcome that?
Daniel: Yes, yes. Also, I forgot to mention, I’m the managing partner, but I’m also in charge of all the corporate area. I do most of the corporate M&A. We are doing a lot of real estate here in Colombia. To be specific as to the answer to your question, I will say that our biggest challenge is related to the people, to the attorneys. Finally, we are still a client-driven service. We are to the clients, and we have to provide good services to the client.
But the only way to do that is throughout people, through attorneys. I don’t want to be specific, or I don’t want to talk bad about specific, let’s say, about millennials. But I will say that the biggest challenge is making them understand that sometimes you are not being selfish, or you are not saying things because you want to, because you are this. But because the client actually wants them, because the client actually is in a tough spot and needs our help.
Also, I’m aware that we need to evolve and that we need to be aware of what’s going on out there, the technology. But sometimes, I don’t know if you’re aware, but here in Colombia we have a legal system, not the common law system. We have the Roman system, so we have codes. We struggle a lot with our attorneys because they find everything in the internet, everything comes from the internet. Unfortunately, when the law comes from codes, comes from the actual paper of the law, what the Congress enacts and so on.
We sometimes struggle making them realize that this is a business that is client driven, that this is a business that you have to be technical, that you have to do research. That you have to go into detail about what the law says and not what the internet says. I would say that that’s our biggest challenge.
Lindsay: That is a really big challenge. I’m wondering as you say that, given that there is this then push-pull with the generations.
As we move forward with a more technologically savvy workforce, are you seeing there being difficulties with things like artificial intelligence?
How you train your workforce and people wanting to work more remotely, are you seeing difficulties there as well because of the way that your legal code is structured?
Daniel: Yes. Yes, definitely. That’s a really interesting and really important point. Yes, we are seeing difficulties. To be honest, we’ve come to realize that we need to be aware that technology and, let’s say, AI has come here to stay, and you have to embrace it and you have to work with it. Yes, we’ve had some challenges there. What we are trying to do is we’re trying again to embrace it and to get as much information as possible.
We are encouraging young attorneys to go out there and learn about this whole artificial intelligence, to practice the law with having in mind this or using these tools. To come to the office, to come to the firm and provide the other attorneys with the information, with their experiences. This is not like a thing that you go and say, “You know what? This is not something we talk about here. This is something prohibited.”
No, we are again, I’m using it three times to use the word embrace, but I think that’s the actual word. You have to say, “Okay, this is here to stay. Let’s see what we can do best out of it.”
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. You’ve spoken a little bit about the client side, and so talked to us a little bit about the current state of the market and what that does mean for you and your clients.
Daniel: Okay. This is a brief introduction; this is very important for us. Colombia is a country that for the first time in current history, appointed a president from the left. Although we will not get into policy here, this has come with a specific reality. Unfortunately, and I don’t know if you’re aware, but the region has shown this election or electing presidents from the left. We have Ecuador, who had President Cordova.
We have Argentina, who’s also with a president from the left. We have Alberto Ángel Fernández who was newly elected for the second time. He is also from the left. He’s actually very good close friends with Gustavo, who’s the president of Colombia. But this, in terms of our market, has had an impact because our clients unfortunately are, let’s say, freezing or say that this is not a good environment to do business or are a bit concerned.
That for us, that has been a challenge. Also, I don’t know if in the US has happened the same thing, is that we’ve had very high interest rates. All of this and let me be more specific about what impacts mean, having a government from the left with not getting into politics. What has happened here in Colombia is that as the government says that “We’re from the left and we finally have the opportunity to change things,” they are doing a lot of reforms.
For instance, they’re doing a labor reform, they’re doing a pension reform, and all of this has an impact on our clients. For instance, we do a lot of real estate and most of the real estate and most of the investors in real estate are pension funds. The government is trying to pass a reform restricting the quota that these pension funds can invest in real estate projects. We have a very interesting environment.
We are facing challenges, but my father was always in construction, and he was really concerned about the cycles of the business. I think this business, this law firm as a business, is more or less recession proof. Meaning that when you have a lot of investors, you have a lot of businesses, you help them do the business. When you have this type of situation, you also help them deal with the situation.
Just to give you a specific figure, construction in Colombia in this year has dropped approximately 40%, and a lot of the workforce comes from construction. That’ll give you an idea that we are having some challenges in our market. Obviously, our firm or all of the firms are dealing with it.
Lindsay: Yes. Yes, that’d certainly have an impact on the marketplace in general and in law firms, certainly. All of those changes will keep law firms busy, which is the good thing.
But as you say, it creates a lot of uncertainty for your clients not knowing what the government will do next creating changes in policy.
Daniel: That’s right. That’s right. Correct, correct.
Lindsay: What would you say then with there being so many changes, and this may be something that’s unrelated.
But what would you say is the biggest area related to your practice or industry that you’re curious about at the moment?
Daniel: That’s a good question, in terms of how we are having to deal with what we’ve mentioned in terms of the day-to-day. But we’re trying to do that despite having this interesting or this interesting, complicated, whatever you call situation on a day-to-day. I think that we cannot lose sight of the point that we want to go and where do we see the firm in the future? What are we building for other attorneys in the firm, to come and work and be a part of the firm?
When in terms of that, I’m seeing two practice areas that are becoming interesting and that I’m curious about. The one that is mostly related with what I do with corporate is compliance. This is very interesting because we always see what starts to happen in Europe or in the US, then sooner or later it comes to us. I see that as an advantage because if you’re aware, if you are able to look at what’s going on in the US, then you’ll say, “It’ll come here.”
I think that we here in Colombia, are trying to be very rigorous in terms of compliance. We have laws, we are having new laws that relate to compliance, to corporate compliance, how high-ranked employees or officers or directors have to behave or whether it’s wrong or right. Here in Colombia, we are having this, it’s actually been regulated here, been issued by the authority that also looks into corporations, so it’s very interesting.
I don’t know if it’s the same in the US or Europe, it is, but we are seeing that it’s a mix with a lot of criminal law. Most of the attorneys that do compliance have some knowledge on criminal law, corporate law so it’s been very interesting. Also, this is because I have two daughters and I see that they are very, very interested or I won’t say interested, but very concerned, that’s a good word, concerned about the environment.
Also, we are seeing a lot of new laws, a lot of new issues that relate to the environment. I think that that’s also a practice area or industry that we have to look at it. The way that our clients, the plans for our clients, that the clients work or the way that they do business, is now touching the area of or it has been for many years, but it’s now more in evolution or it has more force. You have to be more aware of what you’re doing in environmental law.
Thankfully, we do a lot of due diligence. We do a lot of due diligence processes and environmental law has become one of the main issues to look into. I would say those two practice areas.
Lindsay: Yes, that’s really interesting. I think it’s one of those things where it used to be an add-on, and now especially I would imagine in corporate law, and I think it’s something we look at the ILN as well.
It’s underlying all of the things that you do as that ESG and compliance. You’re making sure that you are in alignment with how you’re making sure that you don’t make things worse for the environment.
Daniel: Right. It has actual consequences and important consequences. We have dealt with the closure of a plant of a client, and it was something that they weren’t I won’t say aware.
But they thought it was not going to be as strict or as important or as material as it was, and they had to shut down the plant.
Lindsay: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely. Right, because you initially think of just the human side of that and the labor side, and those types of things and the financial side.
Then there are really other factors that come into that. It really has a big impact. It is a really interesting thing to think about.
Daniel: That’s right.
Lindsay: Yes. Switching gears a little bit, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Daniel: That’s a tough one because you take me out of my… Okay, but I need to talk about something because otherwise, I won’t have a good dinner tonight. I’m a parent, I have two daughters. I always say this, and people laugh, sometimes they don’t understand and sometimes they laugh. I have two daughters with two legs and two daughters with four legs. The other ones got four, which comes to the other thing that I’m a really, really dog lover.
But no, let’s focus on I have two daughters, one who’s 16 years old, and is actually living in the states. Yes, it’s funny. The last trip we took going into the United States, we were at the immigration, and she was entering with her student visa. The guy from immigration said, “You are living there. You were in boarding school. What did you do?” My daughter said, “No, no, no, nothing, nothing, nothing. I really wanted to go into the states a little bit.”
She’s in boarding school. I have another one who’s 11 years old. Today, she’s at camp and yesterday we got pictures from her. She’s doing very well. Also, I’m married. I’ve been married for 22 years, and I’m really happy on my marriage.
Lindsay: That’s good.
Daniel: I think that one of the issues for being really happy is that my wife is also an attorney. She does not practice, but we actually met at a firm at Baker McKenzie. I was her boss. She was a labor lawyer; I was a corporate, but we met there. She understands when you go home at the end of the day and talk to her about this and that, she understands, she gets it. Sometimes this is true, but I think she doesn’t get bored.
The last thing, and when I introduced myself to the attorneys here said, “I’m really, really a hard worker.” I will say that I’m one of those peoples who is blessed with loving what they do. For me, working on a weekend, it’s I won’t say work, it’s two incomes. For me, it’s the same as doing sports because I really like what I do. I say to people, that’s sometimes good, sometimes not as good because I’m always thinking about the firm.
I’m always thinking about, “What can you do for your clients?” But I tell them, “You know what? I work a lot, but I have a wife, I have two kids, I have two dogs, I do sports and I have friends.” It is compatible. You can be a good attorney, you can be a hardworking attorney, and also you can have your extracurricular activities, whatever they are. I also am very, very respectful and I see that it’s very important that people have their life outside of the office.
Lindsay: Yes. Yes, that’s great though. That sounds really wonderful. I love to hear all of that.
Daniel: Thank you.
Lindsay: Who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Daniel: I will say that I haven’t had one mentor, I will say that I’ve had three mentors. I will say I’m going to respond to this question in reverse. Because I will say that these three people have encouraged me or have through my professional life, through my career, have made me aware of the importance of a couple of things, who at the end have made me what I am today. They were, let’s say, very clear on the importance of really hard work.
Also, on the importance of having a focus. When I did the whole professional development of starting in a law firm and being an associate, being a junior associate, a senior associate, I did all the work. When I was there, it was sometimes frustrating. Because you do a lot of work and you sometimes don’t see that the career, that your path, that your professional development goes on the same speed that you wanted.
These three people, who are actually, fortunately, who are still alive, two of them, my father. My father has been a really, really hard worker, has been an entrepreneur. He’s always encouraged me to work hard. I’m sorry, I’m going to say a word that’s not too, can I say something that’s not too good a word?
Lindsay: Yes, of course.
Daniel: He’s always been like, “You know what? Just suck it up and work hard. Sorry, tough luck. Suck it up and continue.” Also, my father-in-law, my father-in-law has also been an entrepreneur. He is a person who has had an interesting life. It’s very curious because he’s also encouraged me to do a lot of hard work and to be focused, always be focused. No worries on your friends doing this and that.
No, no, no, you have to stay focused. At the end you will see that things will come along, will come along. Last but not least, this was a very close friend of my father from high school, who coincidentally was related to my father-in-law. There was a really nice coincidence when I started dating my wife, I’ve mentioned to my father-in-law, “I know this guy who’s a friend of my father.” He was, “Why do you know him? He’s related to me. He’s my cousin.”
He was the president of a headhunter company. It’s a very well-known ferry. He helped me in understanding and navigating the corporate world. Because my father was always an entrepreneur, my father-in-law was also an entrepreneur, they both didn’t know what the corporate culture was, and they didn’t understand it. This guy, Jose, who died because of COVID, I don’t know why he took me into his wings and helped me navigate the corporate culture.
I started backwards. I started at the end by saying these three persons, who I say were my mentors, have encouraged me, what I’ve said, hard work, being focused. I also will say that I know that’s why I love this. But my father has always said, “You know what? You have to have fun in what to do. If you don’t have fun in what to do, it’s going to be tough.” These were the three mentors in my career.
Lindsay: I love that so much. They’ve taught you so many great lessons, it sounds like. They sound like they’ve been wonderful people for you. What would you say has been the most important lesson that you’ve learned over your career?
Daniel: The most important lesson I’ve learned in my career is that, and this is something that I always tell the attorneys that come to work with me. I say to them, “This is the lesson, is that you are going to be dealing on your day-to-day with problems. You will have problems all day long. You will have problems at home, you will have problems at the office. Clients, this is what’s good about attorneys. Clients pay you when they have problems.”
What I said to them is, “No matter if you are on the right path or on the wrong path, always come to me with an alternative solution. If you do that, we are on track and we’ll work together, and we will sort it out together. But never come to me with a problem, without a solution or without a possible solution.” It doesn’t have to be right, but let’s all work on it and that’s what I call teamwork.
That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned over my career. I’ve learned it the hard way working with a boss that delegated, I would say, too much. But at the end, that was the big lesson. As I’ve mentioned, always tell my attorneys, my associates, my juniors, “Let’s work focusing on this work, let’s work on solutions.”
Lindsay: That’s fantastic. I think that’s a great lesson. That’s certainly one I learned early on in my career too. Don’t just show up with problems, show up with solutions.
Daniel: There’s actually an article in the Harvard Business Review that said it described it with the monkey on the back, and it said that when you are working in the office corridor and you see your boss and you tell him, “You know what? This is the problem we had. I’ve been struggling with this, but this is the problem we had.”
There you have the monkey in there, you have transferred the monkey to the boss, and the boss is now with the problem. Because when the boss comes to you and says, “What happened with this?” I’ve told you; I’ve told you this was a problem. You must be aware. I try to do that and say, “You know what? This is something that you have to deal with. You have to produce solutions and don’t bring the monkey to me. I have lots of monkeys, tons of monkeys.”
Lindsay: That’s right. I have lots of monkeys. That’s great. What is something that most people misunderstand about your field of work?
Daniel: That’s very important. I will say definitely sometimes people think or clients, they think that you are here to bring the problem out, that you are not a part of the solution. That is because you are paid to see what may happen in the future and what may be resolved, they think that at the end you don’t want to do business. That your goal or that your alternative, is that clients or the parties within a transaction or business transaction are not able to do the business.
It’s a challenge because I say to attorneys here, to the people who work here is, “We have to assume that this is what our clients are thinking, and this is what they have on their heads.” Let’s try to change this by saying, “You pay me because I have some knowledge, you pay me because I have some knowledge.” The ability to see, to read the law and to interpret it regarding your case, your situation, your business transaction.
Yes, maybe I’m seeing some problems and some things that may happen in the future, but this is only towards having a good business and having smooth transaction. So that when this is in execution, in performance, you won’t have any problems. That’s what I say it’s one of the biggest misconceptions. They think that you are there only to charge them and only to find problems instead of solutions.
Lindsay: That’s right. Right, you’re there to help them get to their end goal too.
Daniel: That’s right. Yes.
Lindsay: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely. To finish, tell me about something that you are enjoying right now that has nothing to do with work.
Daniel: Nothing to do with work?
Lindsay: Nothing to do with work. I know, this is always the hardest question for everybody.
Daniel: No, no, no, no, but you get a lot of information about the importance of sports. You get a lot of people, you see a lot of people who say, “I do this, I do that.” I’ve always been into sports, but I decided to, I say, “Look, I’m a really hard worker, and I decided that I was going to spend the first couple of hours in the morning to myself doing sports.”
I’ve decided that unless it’s something really important from a client, I don’t start my morning until 8:30 or 9:00. I do sports most of, I would say, six or five days of the week. Colombia is really well done. We have a lot of people who cycle. Well, we’ve had people who’ve won the Tour de France.
We do have talent in terms of cycling and I’m doing both off-road and on-road, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m really, really enjoying it.
Lindsay: That’s great. I love that.
Daniel: I’ve discovered what people say that after you do sports, your day is different. That’s been, yes.
Lindsay: That’s fantastic. I love that so much. That’s great.
Daniel: Yes, it’s really good. It’s really good.
Lindsay: Well, Daniel, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much also to all of our listeners.
Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. We will be back next week with our next guest. Thank you so much.
Daniel: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.