The human heat from chatting with colleagues at the coffee machine may be missing, but the law firms that make up the Eurojuris network have been at the vanguard in embracing new ways of working over the last year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created challenges across the world, and two member firms – in Brazil and Israel – have been sharing their stories of the shifting rhythms in their law firms and how they learned to pivot as lockdown arrived, taking on home working, remote court hearings and online meet-ups.
For these cities, on different continents and more than 10,000 km apart, the pandemic has played out very differently. Israel was the first country in the world to complete a mass vaccination programme, allowing the country to return to some degree of normality during Spring 2021, while in Brazil, the latest wave has seen high numbers infected and needing hospitalisation.
But the experience within the two law firms has been remarkably similar.
Boccuzzi Advogados Associados is based in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city with some 22 million inhabitants. A 15-lawyer firm with an international perspective, it deals with foreign direct investment and company set up through to tax, employment, and commercial and civil litigation. Alongside the country’s first language of Portuguese, the firm has English, French, Italian and Spanish speakers, serving foreign companies doing business in Brazil, together with local mid-size companies.
The services sector is the largest in Brazil, accounting for nearly 70% of GDP, together with industry and agriculture. The world’s largest producer of coffee, food products are Brazil's chief export.
Founding partner Eduardo Boccuzzi is a corporate lawyer, recognised for his specialist expertise in mergers and acquisitions.
He says: “The pandemic has made lawyers see that remote working is definitely viable. Looking at our own firm, we will reduce our physical office space and some partners and lawyers, including myself, will never return to the routine of attending the office every day.”
Hybrid working is an approach echoed by Gilad Berman, whose nine-lawyer firm is in Tel Aviv’s courts district. He expects that most of his firm’s work will be done from the office, with flexible working likely to involve one day a week at home. He says: “I could not have imagined it a year ago, but it is working and the sky is not falling down. In terms of the needs of clients we can provide much without physical meetings, and even where it is necessary, I do not see it returning to pre-pandemic levels.”
For Israel, technology and industrial manufacturing predominate, with the country second only to the USA on a per capita basis in generating new technology-based start-ups. It is also one of the world's centres for diamond cutting and polishing, amounting to around a quarter of all exports.
Alongside the usual spread of local and international work covering most aspects of civil commercial law, Gilad’s firm is presently busy with some of the unique issues arising from the pandemic, including company loss of earnings insurance claims and Force Majeure contract disputes.
In both countries, the courts are sitting online, with cross-examinations in litigation cases working successfully in Israel, and the Brazilian courts also doing well in terms of performing duties remotely according to Eduardo, with even complicated hearings conducted remotely.
The extended use of technology is also helping firms be more productive, as Eduardo explains: “The popularity of software such as Zoom or Teams allows us to work in ways that weren’t feasible before. So, we may start a session with just two people involved, but during the call can bring in other lawyers to contribute to the discussion.”
But one thing that technology cannot do, is to fulfil the truly human element of working life, as Eduardo says: “I miss the conversations about football or politics with colleagues, and the visits to the courts and chatting with the clerks.”
Each tell a similar story in terms of the values they derive from being a Eurojuris member. For Eduardo, it’s all about growing the international profile of the firm, he explains: “Being a member has allowed us to provide services to German, Swedish, French and Italian clients and has helped our Brazilian clients with needs elsewhere, such as sourcing the right legal advice in Norway.”
Gilad echoes that, saying “You know that you can pick up the telephone and trust you will get good information.” After being involved in the network for more than ten years, Gilad has also made many friends: “We see each other in the conventions, formal gatherings, or practice groups, but we also meet up with each other as friends, and this has become the most important thing.”