Hot 100 career quiz: Milbank’s Apostolos Gkoutzinis

Name: Apostolos Gkoutzinis

Organisation: Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy

Position: Partner

Trained at: Shearman & Sterling

Year qualified: 2003

Read his Hot 100 2019 profile

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

Although I actually qualified as an English lawyer in 2003 (through the EU equivalence route), I have only practised New York law and US federal securities laws. Thus, sadly, I was never a trainee in the formal sense, but I did “train” as a junior lawyer in the capital markets team of Shearman & Sterling.

My most vivid memory is a sort of unquantifiable sense of working on important matters, some of the greatest financings of those times, surrounded by exciting people and working for very smart clients at the top of the market. I just enjoyed every minute unreservedly (of the countless hours spent in the office, almost virtually 24/7).

Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?

Many people, partners, colleagues, clients, have influenced my career in many ways. I am grateful to all of them. As a younger, aspiring, lawyer, the most influential person was Professor Rosa Lastra, a leading financial and monetary law academic. She was my academic mentor and PhD doctorate supervisor and insisted, very emphatically, that I should leave Europe, go to Harvard, study financial law, qualify in New York, and go into a major international law firm.

A little later, in my professional career, David Beveridge, now the managing partner of Shearman & Sterling, was by far the most influential person. He pushed me to excel, he taught me the laws and practices of capital markets, he showed me another level of lawyering: thoughtful, creative, friendly, collaborative. More recently, Suhrud Mehta, my partner at Milbank, one of the leading financial lawyers of our generation, has influenced the refinement of my thinking for complex financings so profoundly that has literally prompted me to go back to basics and find new levels of enthusiasm for what we do.

What was the toughest decision you’ve ever had to face in your career? How, and what, did you decide?

Leaving a tenured academic position (ie job security for life) in the University of London, at the age of 30, to try my luck in a major international law firm, starting at the very bottom, as a junior associate, was not an easy decision. As I now think about that choice, all of the risks that I assumed (known at the time as well as unknown and unpredictable), and all of the things that could have gone wrong, it was a striking decision.

But I had conviction of the strength of two very important propositions: I was unhappy teaching financial law, not actually practising it; and I had deep conviction that if I worked hard, no matter how low I was in the law firm “ladder” and how old I was to be a starting-level associate (at the age of 30), I would be successful. Sometimes, these days, late at night, when I stare at my children sleeping in the safety of their beds, and think about those uncertain years, I just feel blessed it all happened. Not sure how, but it did. And I am grateful for it.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

I always ask younger people who ask this question to search inside them to see what motivates them. Why would you like to dedicate yourself to the practice of law? Think what drives you. Success in this field, as in other fields, is entirely attributable to high levels of energy, dedication, intellect and hard work. Not the type of “hard work” that the average office worker feels at the end of a day in the office. In the early years, as well as in the formative and/or mature years of one’s career, at least in the City of London or Wall Street, we are talking about a level of “hard work and dedication” that is as close to complete professional dedication as the dedication and effort shown by Olympic athletes or Nobel laureates in their own pursuits (without obviously at all suggesting that financial or corporate lawyers are anywhere as admirable or useful as those other categories). But the commitment of effort is not dissimilar.

If this amount of effort is combined with strong intelligence and a desire to be useful and commercial to clients, not self-serving to a particular type of legal ego, then the combination is very powerful.

Client commitment is key. Most lawyers pay lip service to it. In reality, they merely rationalise that what they choose to do for clients is what clients want. They deliver advice or a service and pretend it is “client commitment”. Generally, a rare few will really change the way they work, what their schedule otherwise dictates, change their plans to actually deliver what the client needs and/or wants.

It’s more difficult than it sounds. I call it the “Friday night” test. If a client calls on a Friday evening to give you a new attractive mandate, will you take the call enthusiastically? Most lawyers will. But if a client calls on a Friday evening to ask for a favour (a document review, a structuring paper, some slides) so that THE CLIENT (eg an investment banker working on a proposal) wins their mandate, not you, will you take the call enthusiastically? Most lawyers will not, at least not enthusiastically. And that’s the essence of client commitment. To want to see your clients succeed as if that success belonged to you.

What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?

I have written two books in my career and numerous articles, monographs, chapters in books. There is probably one or two more books in me, trying to get out, competing for my attention. One or two, yes. One is about the bond markets, the legal institutions, rules, principles, regulations that move the markets and allow investors and issuers to come together and form capital.

The other one will be on Greece, the financial calamity of the last 10 years, what went wrong, what can be done to get the country working again. In a sense, the two books are two sides of the same coin. The rule of law, respect for contracts, certainty of outcome of administrative action, zero tolerance on corruption, a stable currency, investor protection and transparency, are all the true foundations of strong financial markets and reflect much of what went wrong with Greece.

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