Andrea Braun has been a lawyer at Noerr since March 2017 and advises in the Restructuring & Insolvency practice group from the firm’s Frankfurt office. During an interview she reports on her work and how she ended up at Noerr.
Andrea, your practice group is currently looking for new advisors, especially for the Frankfurt and Munich offices. What will this positions offer to make it so attractive that no one should miss the opportunity to talk you?
For me, what makes our firm special is the fact that we see ourselves as a team that works together in an atmosphere of trust across the various practice areas and offices and has fun together. Something new every day, high-level work and internationality – other large law firms probably offer the same. But at Noerr, laughter is part of day-to-day office life, and we enjoy spending the last few hours of the day at an in-house mulled wine event on a Friday evening or a get-together on the roof-top terrace.
R&I – What exactly does your team do?
Companies that find themselves in financial difficulties need the pooled expertise of a large number of legal disciplines. Possible courses of action have to be assessed against the backdrop of their overall effects. Insolvency law can be described as an extra layer that lies on top of and modifies the other legal fields. This is what makes it so fascinating from my point of view. As a legal partnership, Noerr advises all the stakeholders who come into contact with the financially distressed company: shareholders, directors, investors, insolvency administrators, creditors and suppliers. Advice can be given either before or after insolvency proceedings have commenced. The expertise we need for this is consolidated in the Restructuring & Insolvency (R&I) practice group. I’m part of the practice group’s core team, which consists of a total of 15 members across all the German offices who have specialised in R&I. Apart from this, there some members of our practice group who have links to other legal departments but focus on all areas of their other legal field that relate to insolvency. We have colleagues who mainly do financing or employment and labour law, for example, but who we always fall back on when expertise is needed on financing distressed companies or job structuring during insolvency proceedings.
What client matters are you working on at the moment?
Together with a larger team, we’re currently advising Condor on their “protective shield” proceedings and principal proceedings. As this is a very large mandate, it’s taken up a lot of time over the last year. We managed to successfully negotiate two loans from the German state-owned development bank KfW and draft the restructuring plans and are currently preparing for the proceedings to be terminated. After spending such a long time together on the matter and overcoming so many challenges together, it’s a great feeling when the proceedings end and the company is successfully operating on the market again.
At the moment, I’m also working with the responsible partner on a matter involving a supplier whose customer has filed for insolvency. It is obviously no longer feasible in this situation for our client to continue to supply the customer, with no security provided and the usual long payment periods, so the supply relationship has to be reorganised. I’m also looking into the consequences for a shareholder who has provided a loan if the borrower goes bankrupt. Parallel to this, colleagues whose client matters require expertise in R&I come to me with their queries. This can range from giving a short answer to long-term involvement in the matter. All this doesn’t rule out my sometimes being involved in matters that have less to do with restructuring or insolvency. I rarely know what’s going to be on my desk next week. The upshot is that the workload is sometimes not very predictable, but that makes the work all the more wide-ranging and exciting.
Do you have regular client contact?
Yes, every day. From the very beginning, I had a lot of client contact. At first I was sometimes just cc’d in e-mails, then I sent out e-mails myself in consultation with the responsible partner, and now I also have my own mandates. This inevitably leads to being approached directly or receiving calls about queries. Of course, you learn to be more independent over time and more comfortable with taking on new tasks. Now and then your pulse rate goes through the roof when a client’s on the phone and wants on-the-spot answers to their questions. As time passes, it starts to become fairly routine and your pulse goes back to normal again more quickly after these types of call. Besides this, our team always confers on critical telephone calls or e-mails.
Do you often have several client matters at the same time, or does one dominate?
Always several at once. You definitely have to be able to multi-task.
What do you like most about your job?
From my point of view, the most riveting aspect of insolvency and restructuring law is the inter-disciplinary element. It’s rare that insolvency law has to be applied in isolation. Instead, a living organism gets into financial difficulties and insolvency law has to be borne in mind in all the “normal” legal relationships as well. This felt like being thrown in at the deep end at first, but this complexity also has great advantages. I work with a large number of different people at our firm, and not just with the partner who’s actually responsible for me. And I learn a lot, including how various business aspects interact with and affect each other. To be able to advise a client at the highest level, you also have to know how their business works and how it would be affected in a critical situation. Together with my team I have to anticipate where the biggest problems will arise in order to be able to react and ideally to take precautions as well. This makes it so intriguing, and above all varied.
Is your work international as well?
Insolvency proceedings in Germany are always conducted according to German law. So, with a few exceptions, we only apply German law in standard insolvencies. But that’s not to say that my work isn’t very international. In fact the opposite is true – 50% of my work is in English. An international hedge fund needs advice on a distressed investment, foreign creditors want to pursue their claims against a German debtor or the supplier of an insolvent German company is based abroad. In these situations we have to not only communicate in English but also explain our legal system as a whole, which is very different from legal systems based on Anglo-Saxon law.
What time intervals is your work usually billed in?
We bill in 6-minute intervals. Of course it’s not always possible to determine the exact time, and no one expects you to sit at your desk with a stopwatch. Over time, you learn to estimate the amount of work you’ve spent on one matter, and often you spend quite a long time working on one thing. At least that’s what the productivity theories on the net always advise you to do. ;-)
My daily routine varies quite a lot. During my time as a lawyer, I haven’t worked many night shifts, and my weekends are actually always free. It’s clear that you can’t always predict exactly what time in the evening you’ll have finished urgent tasks and be able to turn off the lights. But at the same time, we also enjoy a great deal of leeway in our job: a longer lunch break because it’s a beautiful sunny day or a doctor’s appointment at 4 pm? As long as no meetings have been scheduled, it’s not a problem; you can work a bit longer in the evening or the next day if necessary. Working from home was already possible at Noerr before coronavirus. In my opinion, the pros and cons balance themselves out in this respect.
How long have you known that it had to be restructuring and insolvency and why?
I knew I had a passion for insolvency law when I heard a lecture about it at university. Knowing what exactly I wanted to do with it took a bit longer, of course. But I haven’t regretted opting for this legal field.
How did you originally end up at Noerr? Why are you still here?
I came to Noerr long before March 2017, joining as a research associate in October 2014. I’d already worked as a research associate in a major law firm when studying for my doctorate and wanted to do the same during my traineeship. For one thing, I really enjoyed not just sitting in front of books but actually working in a practical environment. But the financial aspect was naturally important as well: my salary as a trainee simply didn’t cover my monthly costs. Why Noerr? I regarded the job there during my traineeship as a risk-free chance to take a closer look at the team and the office and get to know another large law firm. I wanted to see whether I liked it there more than at the other law firm. Going for Noerr was ultimately a gut decision even then. Everything fit on paper, and during the interview, I got on well from the start with the partner I currently work with. I quickly noticed that this gut decision was the right one. That’s why I’m still here, now as a lawyer.
If you’d known back then what you know today, what would you have done differently?
Overall, I’m fairly satisfied with my decisions regarding my career path up to now. I think I should’ve caught up with my sleep and taken more time off when sitting my exams. That’s easier said than done in hindsight, especially because everything went well and according to plan in the end. The examination tunnel was sometimes quite long and dark, and a bit of relaxation would have done me good. As you gain experience, you become more at ease and unflappable. I wish I’d had that sooner.
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what else would you have liked to do?
I could very well imagine being a confectioner or running my own cafe. I love baking (and even more eating the results;-)) and like arranging food attractively and serving people. I like seeing the results of my work straight away and having the freedom to be creative. I enjoy trying out new recipes and think about what I can cook or bake at the weekend. Working from home due to coronavirus came in very handy for me, especially as during the lockdown you couldn’t go out to eat, something we normally did a lot before.
What recent event were you really happy about?
We made a film for the Frankfurt office Christmas party. It involved a great deal of work and of course we didn’t know whether it would go down well until the very end. When everyone was really pleased with it and there was lots of laughter from different parts of the room, we were over the moon and I was quite relieved.