Q&A with Andrès Font Galarza, Partner, Gibson Dunn
BL: After a long time at DG Competition, you decided to turn to private practice.
What provoked this decision, how was the transition and have you enjoyed the experience so far?
AFG: I spent 15 years in the European Commission. Quite frankly, when I started, after finishing my post-graduate studies in Bruges, I did not think I would stay that long. Civil service, being a “fonctionnaire”, was not in my family's tradition. However, the work was very interesting and kept my motivation up day after day.The change to private practice was natural and had to do with age and taking on new challenges. I had 25 years ahead of me before being able to retire from the EC – I think you get the picture! The transition was successful though – all I seem to remember now is the masses of distracting paperwork required by the Belgian State and local administration! After six years, I definitely do not regret my decision to change.
BL: What do you miss the most about working at the European Commission and what do you most enjoy about private practice?
AFG: The mobility opportunities within the European Commission were great, allowing me to work across a broad range of sectors. The EU officials have high technical standards. Even though there was more time for reflection than in the private sector, I may have had just as long hours as I now do! As for private practice, I mostly enjoy client relationships and the entrepreneurial part of it all. There is a certain freedom to develop things faster and see the rewards from successful strategies sooner.
BL: What does "client handling" mean to you?
AFG: I think it's more the clients that handle us! My clients are highly sophisticated. They know their respective markets well and have options.I always trust the demand side of the equation and try not to go against this stream. My daily challenge, together with the team, is to provide clients with added value. From another perspective, each economic sector might have peculiarities that require specific personal qualities in interacting with clients. It is not the same to work with Wall Street, the energy sector or the Luxury industry. Regardless, in my experience demand meets supply in a pretty logical way. There are not many anomalies in the highest segments of international legal practice. Finally, I have always worked in American law firms and I believe their reputation of excellence in client service stands true.
BL: What skills do you think are most necessary to be successful as a private practice lawyer in the Brussels environment?
AFG: The Brussels legal market is specific and highly competitive. The European Institutions are here. I guess it is somewhat like Washington D.C.’s legal market. The important cases often require a more complete and strategic game to be played with the involvement of economists and lobbyists. All of this needs strong coordination, strategic thinking and a sense of what will or will not work in Brussels, which is often a subtle thing to grasp. Obviously clients also appreciate experience within the EU institutions. I would like to see more EU officials moving to the private sector, and vice-versa, for I do believe that it is beneficial to both sides to understand each other’s professional constraints – this would contributing to the common good in a variety of ways. Finally, it may seem anecdotal, but I do not think you can really succeed in Brussels if you do not work from Brussels – you should be a resident here or in the alternative have a Brussels track record – have made your name here in the past. Along the same lines, if you keep on whining about the Belgian weather or things like that without being integrated in the city "system" then I do not think that this will ultimately work well for your business.There are many opportunities in Brussels if you take the city seriously and work accordingly.
BL: You provide legal advice to clients in a variety of sectors. Which sector is your preferred one?
AFG: I particularly enjoy working with brands. Each brand has an individual voice calling its client base in an authentic way. Their business evolves with societal changes but there is also often something permanent, intangible and unique in their appeal. In addition, and because I also had a significant expertise in ICT and internet markets, I have been fortunate to witness the convergence of the offline and online realities. In this sense, internet commerce is no doubt a fascinating part of my practice. Overall, the range of issues I come across certainly keeps me ticking!
BL: Thank you for your time.