Q&A with Philip Torbøl, Partner, at K&L Gates

Q: What is your legal background (including education, early career etc.)?

PT: I studied law at the University of Copenhagen and grew up predominantly around the Danish capital city. However, my mother is French and we speak French at home so it made sense to spend one year of my studies in Paris. I attended the Pantheon Assas and did my traineeship in a very traditional law firm in the heart of the city. It was an amazing year.

I’ve always felt very strongly about my European identity as it was part of my upbringing. It was for that reason I became very interested in European politics and the EU and I decided to specialize in European Law. Whilst I was studying in Copenhagen, I became very active in the Danish Conservative Party. Just before I finished my studies, I got the offer to work as a Press Officer for the EPP group in the European Parliament. It was extremely exciting and it gave me motivation to quickly finish my studies, pack my bags and move to Brussels. During my time at the EP I met lots of interesting people, including a few Heads of State, and I was part of a collaboration that was making crucial decisions for European companies and citizens on a daily basis. But after a while I decided I needed a new challenge so I went back to Copenhagen to be a ‘real’ lawyer.

After 6 months, I was offered a job in a British boutique law firm in Brussels called Stanbrook&Hooper which was founded and led by a famous QC called Clive Stanbrook. He was an impressive person, one of the pioneers of EU law practice, and I learned a lot from him (sadly he passed away in April last year). Eventually, that boutique law firm was merged into a large American law firm called McDermott Will&Emery. After working there for many years, I was offered an opportunity to set up an office in Brussels for a large American law firm. I thought it was an interesting challenge and in 2011 we opened K&L Gates in Brussels.

Q: How did competition law evolve into an area of expertise for you?

PT: I was always interested in politics and competition law, in particular, seemed to be one of the more political areas of law. Essentially, competition law is a political choice: communists want to control the market and libertarians think the market should be completely free. Currently, the policy in Europe is somewhere in between - we want free markets but we to regulate to protect competition. The market needs to be free, but only up until the time that freedom restricts someone else’s freedom to compete.

Q: Could you say a little about your role at K & L Gates - is there any such thing as a 'typical day'?

PT: My day is full of variety. Being a lawyer requires multitasking - I not only practise law but I lead and manage the team. To take proper care of the business I had to learn how to juggle different duties. Other than client work and client management, making sure the administration of the office works properly. I deal with as well HR issues, recruiting and marketing, and I even oversee the finalisation and collection of invoices.

Q: What are the positive and negative aspects of your job?

PT: One of my main priorities is to make sure the team is happy. I am absolutely certain that happy people work harder as motivation is an extraordinary factor for productivity. I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates and most of them have been very good but if the chemistry between the candidates and the team wasn’t there then we simply didn’t go ahead regardless of their qualifications and their expertise. We started with 5 people in 2011 and today we have 30 and they are happy to come to work every day. It’s a competitive market and members of the team get offers to work elsewhere for more money but they stay because they love to be part of our team. That’s the best compliment they can give me and the firm.

On the flipside, we are in a business that is becoming more and more demanding. Over the last 20 years European companies have developed highly sophisticated legal departments within their own companies and that means we, as external counsels, have to produce extra value that corresponds with our rates. It’s getting more challenging as in-house lawyers know their companies much better than we do. We have to deliver exceptional work - I can’t tolerate spelling mistakes, badly drafted memos or unclear presentations. Everybody is human and everyone can fail but we have to produce perfection every single time as the competition is fierce.

Q: How creative do you perceive your work to be?

PT: Our clients are very clever people and are always challenging us which we enjoy. It’s extremely important that we, as the counsel, give proper legal answers but equally it’s as important that we provide a viable commercial solution. We need to always put ourselves in our client’s shoes and find viable solutions for them. That often requires creativity.

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