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Vilius Bernatonis, Managing Partner at TGS Baltic. Interview at Lawyer Monthly.
The legal services industry was always skeptical about innovations or new organizational models which have been reshaping the consulting business for three decades now.
While the legal industry was patiently waiting for innovations to prove their worth, other consulting businesses experimented with a wide range of new operational models, mindsets, technological solutions, marketing channels, and client relationship management methods.
“On the one hand, we benefited by focusing our resources on service quality. But on the other hand, we didn’t cultivate the inner skill of continuous development and exploration of new working methods in line with modern consulting industry’s principles. Even the most progressive international law firms have only recently engaged in a constructive dialogue on customer-oriented business development and the necessity of understanding the clients’ industry. Only now firms started rethinking its approach to services, perceiving them from a more holistic point of view – as an input to the commercial success of the business. And while others still debate on the issue, we decided to act and change our philosophy. From now on, we not only understand how a business entity work but also act as a business entity ourselves”, claims Vilius Bernatonis, the Managing Partner at a Baltic states’ leading law firm TGS Baltic.
TGS Baltic is one of few European law firms which decided to reshuffle their organizational structure and prepare a new development strategy based on clients’ industries.
You claim that TGS Baltic, operations-wise, resembles a corporate organization. How is it different from your previous operational model and why the new one is better?
Historically, from the day the firm was founded, our business and organizational model has been more like one in a corporate company. The firm’s founder Eugenija Sutkienė started with the launch of McDermott, Will & Emery’s representative office in Lithuania. It was the first corporate law firm in independent Lithuania which was managed based on Western standards. Western business culture became a part of the firm’s DNA. This year, we make another step – restructuring our internal organizational model. The process implies three main changes.
First, we believe that a customer’s expectations and goals are more important than our services. We understand that the customer buys goal achievement, not just means to do that. That’s why we don’t give up until we provide the customer with the most suitable solution. To do just the legal work is a half-done work.
Secondly, our work with the customer – it is a partnership. We work for clients as we would work for ourselves as if we are on the Board of their companies. We think and speak the business language, we understand how business is done, we keep our fingers on the pulse of the client’s industry trends.
The third issue is that we consult the client in a holistic manner. Our industry teams are multidisciplinary, thus we can analyze the customer’s problem from all legal perspectives while holding experience in the customer’s specific business industry. We don’t know any other law firm which could actually perform this way, and not just to talk about it.
What pushed the firm towards the changes?
First of all, law firms are way behind the trends in the consulting industry. The second push was due to the changing international ecosystem of legal services and the innovations and technological challenges which might lead to the automatization of lawyers’ functions. We are confident that no machine or AI system can change the sharp mind of a business partner. Developing business together with businessmen, having the common sense, focusing on the same things and generating added value for customers with our legal expertise and experience – such values are priceless. And the importance of these values will go only stronger in years to come, and we need to be prepared for changes by investing in the integration of the values within our firm. With this in mind, we made the first step. We were the first Lithuanian law firm to go through the change of generations in the management and the subsequent change of the organizational structure.
What were the largest challenges that the firm faced during the transformation?
We had to learn our lessons – those which every expanding business learns. First of all, to pay out most attention to the market analysis, strategy development and attracting the right professionals who bring corporate experience with them. Like any other transformation within an organization, this challenge required the entire team to be involved and open to new solutions, as well as motivation to enrich everyday life with a new routine. It was not as easy as it sounds, particularly considering the specifics of the lawyer’s profession. Business development always requires a new perspective – from afar and above. It’s only natural that the process required a transition period, but I highly appreciate what we have achieved. Most importantly, our clients too feel the changes.
What are the real changes that were made possible thanks to the structural transformation?
It’s too early to speak about the results – we will be able to discuss them at least in a year from the transformation. But what we can share right now is that we are witnessing a stronger engagement of the team and their better perception of such values as unity, creativity, and quality. The structural transformation had a positive reception from both our colleagues and clients. Quoting one of our long-standing customers, “The way you work – you always were the best for me, but now my competitors ask me who are my lawyers.”
What’s next? Any new plans to surprise the market?
As in any other business, our goal is not to surprise but to deliver value. First of all, to our customers, then, to the rest of the market. Customer-Oriented business changes the way we deliver our services. Thus, in many cases, the changes are seen in tiny yet important things: how we communicate with the customer, how we communicate and act inside the team, how we prioritize our work and what insights we have. We have a well-established definition of ‘what’ our services are, but ‘how’ they are delivered – every lawyer has own touch. From a client’s perspective, the highest value is when the ‘how’ goes with ‘smart’ and ‘sharp’.
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