Expodia: Hello Mr. Braun, before we talk about bpv Braun Partners and the topic of digitization in general, I would like to know more about you. Where are you from and what is your background?
Braun: My path to Prague was a bit unusual. I come from Bavaria. Neither as a Sudeten German nor as an emigrant had I had anything to do with the Czech Republic until my adult life. In 1988 I first came to Prague as a student at Charles University, then I learned Czech more as a hobby. In 1990, after the opening of the border, there was a big change in my life. Instead of Paris, I went to Prague for my studies abroad, which is still my USP today. I was the first Western law student after the revolution in what was then Czechoslovakia. I then went back to Germany, got my degrees in law and political science. In 1994 I was in Prague as a trainee lawyer and since 1995 (with interruptions in Munich) as a lawyer. After eleven years with major international law firms, the leap to a more flexible unit came in 2006. Today we are represented in Prague and Bratislava under bpv Braun Partners and throughout Central Eastern Europe as bpv LEGAL.
Expodia: How has your firm developed over the past 16 years?
Braun: Most of the partners from back then are still with us today. Of course, we have changes, like every law firm. But the strategy, our international approach, that we advise internationally, always decide locally and are regionally networked, and that we do so many transactions throughout the CEE region, has not changed. Nor has the fact that our employees are basically trilingual, that we work in German, English, and Czech/Slovak.
Expodia: How do you see the importance of digitization in your industry?
Braun: For law firms, this is a question of survival. They have to become more digital; otherwise they will be completely overrun by legal tech providers, by large law firms, by the large accounting firms. For us, digitization is imperative, but conversely, lawyers are of course conservative per se. The only question is: do we want the “first movers advantage” and risk expensive and time-consuming mistakes in the hope of achieving it? Above all, we must then also take advantage of the digital opportunities we have. But the basic principle must be that all digitization must serve the client and the employee, and the advantage must be made clear to them.
Expodia: Where do you personally see the relevance?
Braun: Smart contracts, i.e. creating contracts as quickly as possible with a reduced probability of error, is probably used by everyone in some form or another, even if it is a database with samples. Digital dictation, fast text entry, linking with commercial register, cadastre, etc. already speeds up our work. Probably all law firms now use digital databases. Just 20, 25 years ago, people searched through books, printed commentaries, nowadays research is actually purely digital. Of course, there is an unbelievable amount more mass to process today. But it’s still faster. And these are points where lawyers are already digitized today, which they are not even aware of.
Expodia: How did you experience the transition and do you use any special systems?
Braun: It was actually quite logical. For example, time tracking, still the essential tool to measure the productivity and efficiency of our employees and to be able to provide accurate quotes. We came from a global law firm, had been working with SAP, and suddenly, we were independent in 2006, keeping our timesheet on Excel spreadsheet. We then relatively quickly found a small local Czech solution from Brno, but then after a few years we came to a new system. A system also that we are still developing, which does much more than just time recording, deadline control and management reporting. The same program is also our DMS, CRM and allows us to digitally manage the workflow of our work and tasks of individual team members. But also the largely automated enforcement of tens of thousands of claims in a subsidiary is done very efficiently with this system.
Expodia: What is the name of the system?
Braun: “I§ak”. It’s a great system that we currently use, it could just be more compatible with our external accounting system. I§ak is not the best known on the market, but there are also relatively few providers that really cover the whole spectrum, but in terms of price/performance ratio, our analysis shows that it is currently the best on the market.
Expodia: The Covid situation was a big challenge for all of us. How has digitization helped you with this?
Braun: We all had our laptops from the beginning and were really able to work online from one day to the next via home office with normal but still secured access to all data. What has become apparent is that we are suddenly also using video conferencing, which many were reluctant to do before. It was always a big hassle to call a Skype conference. We work mostly with Webex, but of course with the other systems as well. And the way video conferencing has caught on shows that we probably haven’t had a single “classic” conference call in two years.
Expodia: You already mentioned video conferencing, but there’s finally the opportunity for us to meet people in person again. That’s why at this point we are looking forward to the partnership between bpv Braun Partners and Expodia. What do you expect from Expodia, especially from the “Innovative Digital EXPO” on July 27, 2023, at the Prague Congress Center?
Braun: I expect to meet interesting people. I expect new ideas. There are incredibly big opportunities in the area of digitalization, also for lawyers, that can still be done. Not only the classic smart contracts, but also digital marketing, which lawyers do relatively little of. At most, a lawyer commissions an SEO, but there would actually be considerably more.
Expodia: What would that be?
Braun: I see, for example, with one client, an airline, that we advise on delay claims. The processing is a clear case for me. That’s where we actually have to rely on AI (artificial intelligence). The system has to automatically determine which flight landed late and by how much, whether the claimant was actually a passenger. If the airline is responsible for the delay: bad weather, strike by pilots and strike by ground staff – these are all things that can be wonderfully digitized, also incorporate the new case law of the ECJ and that’s how the future will be. Just as I am convinced that in a few years almost no traffic accidents will be handled by lawyers, but by software. Something I can’t understand, because basically every insurance company should actually have a high interest in settling cases very cost-effectively instead of going to court.
In general, of course, with court cases you could save a lot, but a lot of it is psychology again. I think, for example, in some divorces you have to have yelled at each other first in court, that has a therapeutic effect. Even in commercial law you see that only when the emotions have cooled down, after a few years even the toughest disputes can be resolved amicably – even if any experienced rational lawyer could often actually have solved them together with the opposing lawyer early on.
Expodia: They also say ”the trend is your friend”. You mentioned the topic of AI, which will also be represented at the Innovative Digital EXPO with interesting companies. Where else could AI be used in your industry?
Braun: There are great experiments. Germany is also trying to move forward with the electronic file and, for once, is a bit further ahead than the Czechs. Ultimately, this means that even for small trials, the parties can prepare their arguments in a way that can be digitized. Will the computer then eventually be able to make a proposal to the judge for a decision and possibly even draft the verdict? Not yet as a rule, that was the dream of legal informatics even in my student days 35 years ago, but in many standard proceedings it will go in this direction and that is good. In the medium term, a lot of standard work will certainly be eliminated. Furthermore, for us as a commercial law firm, e.g., in due diligence. These will continue to exist. But of course, these will no longer be ten centimeter thick paper reports, it will be much more concentrated.
For mass contracts (e.g. thousands of rental contracts when buying a housing company), software can also be trained to say, look for deviating points compared to the normal contract, look where there is a change of control clause, and so on.
A lot can basically be done today by self-learning software, provided that contracts can be read reliably, so also as PDF. And one is still not as good as it could be. We also have cases again and again where you have to scan and process an unbelievable number of documents for mass procedures, hundreds of thousands of invoices, there you should aim for 0 errors. Even there, of course, there is still some way to go.
For us, it is important that we can keep up with our clients, who are often much more digitized.
Expodia: Do you have a certain objective with digitization?
Braun: The goal for us is not to save personnel with digitization. The goal is to find good people in the first place and to take away the repetitive work, the boring work. And when I think back to my early days, we did a lot more pointless work, e.g. keeping timesheets is much easier, as I described above. Communication with clients meanwhile are short mails, hardly any long expert opinions. I still have some problems with messengers because of documentation and low level of protection against hackers. But our clients are happy to use digital tools and we are happy to waste less time.
Expodia: At our expo we expect over 100 exhibitors from all over Europe. Where could another company, among others, find added value at bpv Braun Partners?
Braun: We can do numerous joint projects with people with digital affinity, not only support start-ups but also learn from them. Digitization means investing money, of course, but above all time. Lawyers have to learn enough new things anyway. Constant changes to laws, new case law, new business models for clients and the like. And then you suddenly have to change your own working habits.
But this change management is something that you as a law firm actually have to set the direction for. Yes, we don’t want to be a purely digital law firm that only brings people together remotely, we always want to meet physically as well. We are still proud of our work and we do qualified work. We, not a computer, deliver the added value that a human can deliver. But the standard stuff, we can facilitate that significantly and means faster, cheaper for both sides.
Expodia: It is difficult to look into the future, but if I were to ask now Mr. Braun, what is the mission & vision of bpv Braun Partners for 2022, beyond to 2023? What else would you like to achieve?
Braun: On a day-to-day basis, of course, we have crises to deal with all the time, not just Covid and supply chain issues or the war in Ukraine. The strategy encompasses more than just digitization. But in the area of IT, we will certainly agree internally on further legal tech solutions, which we will then hopefully have implemented to the extent that we also use them on a daily basis in one or two years. That we have convinced everyone in the team that the investment will really pay off. That we will then say “Yes” at some point in 2024, it was again laborious, but we have once again managed this conversion and we are still competitive.
That is, of course, what you always have to remember, that a lawyer is not only a fighter for his clients, but also an entrepreneur. And I know just as well that of course other financially stronger players are coming into the market, with digital products in the U.S., in Germany but also in our smaller jurisdictions east of there. Flight Right and other providers are showing that in many areas, lawyers are simply no longer necessary or are becoming unnecessary. And we need to know today as a law firm, where do we want to go and get to with appropriate digital tools? How do we get to the point where we’re bringing that value to clients, that clients continue to say to bpv Braun Partner, “You’re the best law firm for us, and we want to continue to work with you.”
Expodia: This is a long-term mission & vision. If we were to meet for coffee a year from now and talk about what bpv Braun Partners has already achieved from it. What would you tell me?
Braun: Personally, I would be convinced that our invoicing, in particular, would be faster, and that clients would also be informed sooner about accrued costs, rather than just being motivated to complete invoicing on the 25th of the following month. I think that would be a significant added value for the clients and some already demand that they are informed very early. The client should have full cost transparency.
Expodia: Mr. Braun I would like to thank you and look forward to welcoming you to the Innovative Digital EXPO on July 27, 2023, and of course that our visitors as well as exhibitors, can meet you personally on site at booth C24.
Braun: I’m looking forward to it and I’m waiting for new ideas and I’m looking forward to exciting conversations.
Mr. Arthur Braun was interviewed by Armin Khani
You can meet bpv Braun Partners at the Innovative Digital EXPO 2023 at booth C24