Please tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up becoming a lawyer? Your journey seems to have some interesting twists, from your involvement in sailing to your legal career.
The way I went down into the legal career is quite unconventional. In fact, the very reason I decided to become a law student is sailing. I can already “hear” saying: “what sailing has to do with the legal career?”.
Here is what.
At the end of high school, I wanted to become a doctor and in Italy a preliminary test must be taken and passed for registering with the faculty of medicine. When I finished high school that test was scheduled for September 1st. I was due to take such a test until, towards the end of June, I learnt that I was selected for the Italian sailing team to take part in the Junior World Championship to be staged in Poland during the last ten days of August. Sailing was (and is) my life passion: I saw a dream I fought so much for becoming true: I had no doubt, and I chose sailing. Evidently, I was not bound to become a doctor! When I came back from Poland I, somehow, figured out that law was my future.
You mentioned that you come from a family where law wasn’t the traditional path. What drew you towards the legal profession, and how did you navigate your way into the field?
As I said above, I think it was my destiny that drove me into the legal profession.
I think that I was lucky, at the beginning, to find a boutique firm with the right mentor who took me by hand and introduced me to the profession both with day-by-day tasks and with the involvement in complex files and matters, always as if I was the person in charge (this helped to develop a very high sense of responsibility which I now cherish a lot, not so much back then!). He also gave me the chance to interact directly with the clients: I reckon that this does not happen often, especially in large size firms, but I now can say that it was extremely important in learning to have a good and balanced relationship with the clients.
Then I guess it was very much, on one side, my complete dedication, no matter what, to clients and matters/files I dealt with and, on the other side, the constant attention to my education whether in specific law matters/subjects (taking courses, lessons, seminars, every now and then) or about other skills such as personal development (coaching, language). At the end of the day, it has always been my belief that the most important part of one’s career is the beginning.
In all this, I guess I had a tremendous support from my parents and from my wonderful wife: they have always supported me in my aim to develop my career and to improve, to strive for the best.
Your professional experience spans across various law firms, and you’ve been involved in a wide range of sectors. Could you share more about your decision to work in boutique law firms and your approach to customization in your legal practice?
I guess that, again, the destiny shaped the initial part of my career: the start in a boutique firm gave me the opportunity, since day one, to take care of a variety of matters, in the most diverse industries, with a bespoke flavor: nothing pre-prepared, no standard draft or part of it, no standard approach. This is what I liked the most and made me want to stay, almost my entire career, in the same environment (boutique firm).
And in addition to that I am an emphatic person, which is seeking for “personal” relationship in which, whether they are clients or colleagues, the other can feel being special, the one and only to be taken care of, with attention and kindness. After all, who does not like that? I therefore thought that it wanted my clients to feel that way. Given my clients’ appreciation during my entire career, it must have been a good idea!
Your firm, de Bedin & Lee®, is the first Italian/Hong Kong firm in Italy. Could you elaborate on how this partnership came about and the benefits it brings to your clients and the legal industry?
Again, I think that it all went down, at least, at the beginning, to a personal relationship I developed with Claudio de Bedin, a mentor for me, both in my personal and professional life. I met him, with my wife, in Hong Kong in 2005 on my way back from Rizhao (a coastal city in the Shandong province) where I attended, in my capacity of President of the International 470 Class Association (the association of all sailors competing in the Olympic boat named “470”), to the 470 World Championship, the first ever to be staged in China. Claudio, although Italian, was born and raised in Hong Kong, and practiced there for all his life. I believe that we connected since the first time we met, I certainly did for his is an amazing professional and person. We remained in touch at a personal level, and, after some years, he involved me in some cross-border cases. In 2019, we decided to bring that relationship to the next level, becoming the first Italian/Hong Kong firm in Italy.
I believe that the benefits we bring to the table is the combination of expertise, from an Italian perspective (which is one of a civil law country) and from Hong Kong perspective (which is one of a common law country), the mix of efficiency and pragmatism of a Milanese firm and the dynamism and modernity of a Hong Kong one. For Italian and Chinese clients, as well as for foreigner clients of the firm, it is invaluable to have such a diverse, and yet well amalgamated, mix, where the cultural aspects are the key for better understanding them and their needs.
Your areas of expertise include contracts, corporate matters, data protection, M&A, real estate, and sports law. How did you manage to develop such a diverse skill set, and what advice do you have for young lawyers looking to specialize in multiple areas?
The expertise I acquired in such diverse areas was not a result of an express choice, it rather came from the fact that I always worked in a boutique firm, where it is normal to take care of a wide variety of cases, situations. in different industries. With the clients relying on the personal relationship and on my attitude, they want me to go deep into it. Working in multiple areas is interesting, stimulating, never boring, but also demanding as it always requires a lot of studying, researching, investigating.
To be honest, although I see the diversity of the areas I have worked and I work in, I also believe that, given the type on my clients (mainly corporations), those areas are all intertwined: the life of a company is marked by contracts, in corporate matters (they, also, require “contracts”), in M&A deals (again, they require “contracts”), in real estate matters (once again, they require “contracts”), and so on.
If I learnt a lesson in my professional life, that is to find what you like to do, what gives you satisfaction (and for that you have, at least, to go down different patterns!), then be conscious that you cannot do everything when it comes to your table.
You’ve had an impressive involvement in both corporate law and sports law. Could you share some of your experiences working with international clients, including listed companies and those in the sports industry?
Well, it is always difficult to single out some of the working experiences one had, because a lot of them are worth sharing, including for the lessons I learned.
One goes back a few years, and it is about a quite big M&A deal my firm took on. It was for a foreign company, listed in their country, which acquired wind power plants in Italy worth around a billion (the total enterprise value of the deal). It was massive, for a boutique firm like ours, which required working, literally around the clock, 24/7, for more than 6 months, from the due diligence to the negotiation of a very complex sale and purchase agreement. I learned so much, in term of negotiation skills, interaction with clients, colleagues and counterparts, but also, do not be surprised, on personal health side: one must always find time for taking care of his/her body/health because when one is under pressure of workload/deadlines, when one is under stress and shall work long hours, the body is a big ally: the fitter, the better. It might sound strange as our profession is performed while sit at a table, in front of a computer! But, trust me, it is not strange.
The other is recent (2023), and it is about a very complex arbitration on a highly sensitive sport matter, which also had great “political” implications. Working alongside very experienced, world renown and talented professionals, either as my fellow arbitrators or as parties’ lawyers or consultants, was very demanding but also motivating and, at the end of the day, very rewarding. In this case, I was reminded to never lose focus on what really matters (from the legal point of view), especially with hundreds/thousands of pages: sometimes the solution is very simple and it is there, right in front of your eyes.
Your passion for sailing is evident from your impressive sporting and management career in the field. How did your background in sailing influence your approach to law and management?
While I am not sure my career in sailing was as impressive as you kindly defined, I am definitely sure that sailing has shaped my character and my attitude: if I became the accomplished and resolved person I am now, it is largely due to my athlete’s career: I experienced the fatigue and the sacrifices, the pains and the joys, the frustrations and the rewards, I learnt to work in team, to focus on what matters at any given time.
In sailing I learnt the lesson that has been the fil rouge of my life: to never give up (I retired from sailing competition only on two occasions, when my boat suffered serious incidents … one being the falling of the mast!). Never, means never, even when you are exhausted, when you do not see any solutions, when everyone else walks away … that is the moment when you can make the difference. In the legal profession that could mean sometimes to try a different angle, to keep negotiating with your counterpart or to research once more among the cases of law.
I recall a long-distance race on a lake, many years ago. Towards the end of the race, we were in second position. There was a very light wind, the water was almost a “mirror”. The first boat was around 200 meters from the finishing line, stuck with no wind but, nevertheless, closer, much closer, to winning the race than us (we were around 1,5 thousand meters from the finishing line). Believe me, nobody could, in his right mind, seriously think that the first place was still up for grabs. Well, with the persuasion of a very experienced older sailors on our boat, we never gave up in searching the smallest, even insignificant, puff of wind, in reading all the signs one can spot on the water or in the surroundings, and after an exhausting hour and a half, during which, I remember, I could almost physically feel the power of the focus of our minds, in the same light wind … we crossed the finishing line in first position, just few seconds ahead of that boat.
Life has plenty of episodes that may resemble the one I have just mentioned: it is up to us to understand how … never give up!
You’ve held significant positions within the sports industry, including with World Sailing and the International Paralympic Committee. How do you believe your experience in sports management has contributed to your legal career and vice versa?
The positions I held, some of which I am still holding, with several organizations – such as sailing club, Olympic boat association (International 470 Class Association), the world governing body of the sport of sailing (International Sailing Federation, now World Sailing) and the International Paralympic Committee – gave me the chance to grow on the “cultures” side.
I mean when one talks to people coming from complete diverse cultures, from all over the world, one has the occasion to learn how they behave, think, speak, interact, and, why not, eat and drink, and then how one should approach them, talk to them, interact with them, what can be said and what cannot be said, what can be done and what cannot be done. It is a constant exercise which, again, requires dedication and even more a genuine desire to learn about the others, to understand them. Once you learn about them, once you understand them, anything can be achieved. Apply that attitude to the legal profession (whether one has foreign clients/counterparts/colleagues or not, it doesn’t really matter) and I believe that there will be a successful lawyer, who will be able to better understand the clients, their needs, the counterparts and their needs, the colleagues.
On the other side, my legal experience certainly was beneficial for the organizations I served and serve, as I brought to the table the skills of analysis, focus on the goal, effectiveness, and assertiveness, together with my personal calm and kind attitude, learnt and perfected in my profession.
It’s clear that sports played a significant role in shaping your character and values. How have the lessons you learned as an athlete and sports manager translated into your legal practice and leadership roles?
I have already mentioned the “never give up” lesson, resilience.
The other one is “always play by the rules”, no matter what, even when you see others not doing the same, even when it could be easier to take a short cut. Sport is about beating the opponent, on the same ground, with the same rules, just playing better, smarter, wiser, faster, and so on. The (legal) profession is the same, in my opinion: at the end of the day, disobeying the rules, choosing the shortcuts do not pay for anyone, not for the client, nor for the professional, nor for the community, neither for the society/country. And, deep down, it leaves you with the feeling of having been on the wrong side (even if you win), that is just where a lawyer should never be … after all, aren’t we lawyers swearing (at least, I did it my country) to act “in accordance with the means and principles of our legal system”?
Your journey from being the first lawyer in your family to becoming a successful legal professional is inspiring. What advice would you offer to fresh law graduates who are just starting their careers and are looking to make their mark in the legal field?
I do not like to give advice, I rather prefer to tell stories, my stories and if anyone can get something, learn something from those stories I am happy.
I, therefore, want to finish with a true story that happened in Milan which has been a lighthouse in my career.
One day, a client, a very wealthy one, an entrepreneur, asked for an urgent meeting with his lawyer as he had a very pressing matter to deal with. Once the client entered the lawyer’s office erupted into tears, as the matter was serious, one that could really bring his business to an end (it was an insolvency matter). The client and the lawyer discussed the matter at length, and, after a couple of hours, the client left the office, at least not in tears anymore. The evening of the same day, the lawyer went to the famous La Scala (world renown theater in Milan for opera, ballet, and orchestras); as soon as he entered the foyer, he spotted that very same client, enjoying the company of his friends, laughing with them, having fun with them, and talking about the summer holidays. The lawyer could not resist and, after around 10 minutes, approached the client and, after having walked away from the crowd, he asked: “Weren’t you so desperate, in my office, less than 3 hours ago? Has the matter we discussed disappeared? Has anything happened that I do not know? Because I do not really understand how you can enjoy so much with such a serious matter pending over your head like a sword”. The client, with a big smile: “My dear, my dear, you know that I completely trust you, with all my fibers. Now that I have put the matter into your hands, it is not my problem anymore, it is yours. That’s why I am enjoying it so much as you saw”.
Aim at being like such a lawyer and you will live a full, happy, meaningful, and fulfilling professional life (and personal). I aimed at being like such a lawyer. I think I have been like him, in several cases for sure. I can sincerely say now that I have had, so far, a full, happy, meaningful, and fulfilling professional life.
PS – that client did not lose his business!
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