Managing Partner Jasmin Fichte on how Fichte & Co can provide value added substance in critical times where legal budget cuts have been made across industries.
What do you see as the main points that differentiate Fichte & Co from your competitors?
The Legal Market in the UAE is mainly twofold in that the industry consists on the one side of international firms which have legal consultancy branches in the UAE and on the other hand local law firms which can appear in front of the UAE Courts. There are only very few firms which can cross over and provide both legal advice on international high standards but are also well versed with UAE Laws. We as Fichte & Co have positioned us within this gap, working for many International firms who need solid advice on UAE Laws or UAE Litigation matters. Also, it is important to bear in mind that I founded the company in 2005 as my previous role as Counsel had me face the situation that I was unable to find a law firm who would provide workable fee sensitive solutions in a timely manner. Having started with a team of international lawyers we soon realized what limitations this posed on us and we added Arabic litigators and developed to a fully integrated firm which has benefitted our clients since. Now with a team of around 30 Lawyers and offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi we have found our place and growth potential.
I think the above and our strong sense to specialize in specific industries has made us stand out.
Which practises do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
Three topics pop up in my mind which are at the forefront of current development:
In my opinion Dispute Resolution Teams will grow and certainly our Litigation Team has seen a serious increase in work flow. The current market situation is critical and for the past couple of years Cash Flow has been troubling for many companies.
A new insolvency Law was established in 2017. So far, this law has not been tested but once the gates will be opened there will be a large number of filings.
So far hardly any law firm in the UAE had a tax department and this will change now with the new VAT system coming into place.
What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?
With us it is not about the one big change but to keep your hand on the pulse at all times. Thanks to our size we can react immediately to either client demand or legal challenges our clients are faced with. We have always grown with client demands and whilst starting off as a specialist maritime firm we have in time added Corporate, Banking and Finance, Commercial, UAE Litigation, Arbitration, Insurance, DIFC Courts (English speaking), Iran Desk and thus keep reacting to demand. Beginning of this year we have established a Debt Collection Department which is focusing on a success fee structure to assist cash flow stripped clients in a painless manner.
Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?
Yes, we are seeing changes in such a fast pace that it is mind boggling. Two of our departments are focusing on Tech companies and being a true start up ourselves we do take pride in supporting start-ups and offering support to them. This has far outgrown Pro Bono as we are currently engineering an App which provides required contracts – not templates but contracts. Looking at the growing artificial intelligence the face of the legal industry will change and a lot of work currently handled by juniors and paralegals will be handed over to robots.
Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?
It is rather difficult to give one example without entering into the details of the deal, however what I really believe in is that being connected with a well-established law firm have immense benefits, not last us being familiar with your industry and knowing the players as well as the ins and outs of it. Further I strongly believe a good lawyer should always take the time to educate you and your staff about the legal environment of your business.
When it comes to transactional work, any advice should be given keeping in mind the client needs support in taking a commercial decision. It is not about 100 pages of legal intricacies but about a straight forward “Yes” or “No” answer to a specific question. The legal industry has turned into a “it depends” culture and that is frustrating for clients. J. P. Morgan once said “I do not pay my lawyers to tell me what I cannot do, but to tell me how to do what I want to do” and I cannot agree more with this sentence.
When it comes to litigation instead, it sounds obvious to us but not yet to all clients, that if you are being sued, it is too late to go to your lawyer. Once you have been sued the problem has already occurred, and the fee a lawyer will charge to keep you out of trouble is only a small fraction of the fee a lawyer will charge to get you out of trouble once it has happened.
Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms? – where do you see the firm in three years time?
I don’t think you can generalize clients. Larger corporate entities instruct us via their legal departments and they need a legal opinion or legal service done and nothing more. Having said that, I do think that we are considered as eyes and ears of our international clients and certainly they like to hear industry updates and sometimes daily updates on compliance issues. Other clients would make more use of the value-added service we offer by discussing strategic decisions. We do like to add a business benefit by looking at synergies between our clients and by making introductions where possible. Usually a kick off meeting with the client allows us to discuss expectations and to work accordingly.
And of course, there are government entities which have other prerogatives.
We are strongly connected to the UAE and the Middle East and thus our future development will go hand in hand with the countries development. We do wish to stay an independent law firm with an outstanding experience in the Middle East region and well recognized for our industry experience. Whether we can manage to stay clear of the development of larger and larger law firms is not set in stone but a client once said to me that his company would have no issues of us merging with an international law firm if we would “stay as we are and keep our fee structure”. And that reminded me how important our authenticity; not just for us but also for our clients!
So, the aim is to grow organically and stay focused on our core areas!
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First published on Legal 500.