Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

In Conversation with: Katia Zigoulianou, Attorney at Law | LLM | MSc in Banking, Fintech & Risk Management

This interview has been published by Prabhjot Singh, Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team

What was the main reason you chose law as a career?

Law was always an inspiring and challenging field for me. Given that I’m not coming from a family with legal background, hence I had no perception of the legal world and profession, my desire to study law derived from my pure curiosity to comprehend the world I belong to.

From a very early age, I was enchanted by the fact that societies and modern civilization are an artefact of law. Dictums that give concrete form to the greatest achievement of the mankind, civilization. A higher power that dictates, yet connects the word, rooted on common consensus.

What intrigued me more was that law is interwoven in our daily lives, molds our characters, perspectives, mentality and ultimately our being in a very subtle manner, without us even realizing it.

With two of my favourite books being “The Social Contract” (Rousseau) and “The Prince” (Machiavelli), I decided that I wanted to dive in what was the “connective tissue” of our social fabric, law. To explore how this dynamic arrangement moves, interacts and shapes.

Which are the forces affecting it, on which forces has an impact, its pulse during times of crisis. To my eye, law was a living, man-made algorithm, catching social needs, movements, shifts and being formed accordingly, to serve society. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

How has been the journey so far for you, what are the challenges and also that one breakthrough you’ll always remember?

Being a lawyer nowadays is a challenging yet intriguing task. From the very competitive and demanding legal environment that requires continuous efforts to the crisis that humanity goes through during the last years, be it the healthcare crisis, energy crisis, political and cross-border turmoil, lawyering feels like juggling.

Juggling among demanding clients, competitive colleagues, ongoing legislative reforms and amendments, of which you have to keep abreast, tight work schedules, long hours and a work-life balance that is difficult to maintain.  

Nonetheless, in my opinion the major challenge is that the lawyer must act as a pivotal node. The pivotal node between the client’s needs and the legislative framework, assigned with the difficult task of harmonizing and bringing client’s demands in alignment with the law.

The crucial pitfall lurking in this venture is that a lawyer may be swept along by his/her plain legal background and come with rigid, obsolete positions, that don’t serve neither the client nor the scope of the law.

A lawyer shall implement a holistic, multidisciplinary approach. We all hear about the importance of expertise as a key-element to the provision of top-notch legal services, but what we don’t hear, is the “mutilating” effect that expertise may have to a lawyer’s mind and methods.

Apart from the in-depth knowledge of the relevant practice area, a lawyer shall have a strong business acumen and a genuine understanding of the other aspects of the case, with the economic one being the most prominent.

This is the most challenging part of our job. To study and be aware of every single molecule of the tree, without losing sight of the forest.

The truth is that I don’t have a cliché breakthrough to provide, like a victorious win on a very thorny court case or a client’s moving words that thrilled me and made me reconsider an issue. The breakthrough for me that marks a turning point in my career was a resounding realization I had, some years after joining the industry.

As a matter of fact, many lawyers are struggling with “imposter syndrome”, feeling inadequate and being overwhelmed by the hallucination that their colleagues/partners/clients know more and know better. Obviously, this is a very restraining belief.

Changing my viewpoint on that, made me redefine the way I was practicing law, unlocked me and freed me from limiting behavioral patterns. I like to put it as the Greek philosopher Socrates put it on his trial “I know that I know nothing”.

I would dare to say that this saying could not describe better the very tenor of the legal profession. Law is an indefinite piece of information, and it is impossible to be acquired. At the same time, practicing law requires a set of various skills, extending from expertise and in-depth knowledge to negotiation and soft skills, which are not feasible to be mastered at once. Lawyering is a perpetual journey towards personal growth.

By the time I reconciled with this fact, I gained the confidence and assurance that through hard work, study and perseverance, everything could be achieved. I started experiencing, once stressful situations with joy, vivid curiosity, and a feeling of certainty that I could successfully deliver the tasks assigned. I began facing adversities with chutzpah!

This new mentality was reflected in the quality of services I provided and helped me evolve and improve as a professional. By incorporating Socrates’ motto into my daily life, I took the extra leap and performed relieved by such burdens. It was liberating.

Katia, how do you see this E-Lawyering the legal industry, what particular steps you’ll suggest to people?

Covid-19 pandemic and its dire repercussions on a global scale revealed the need for modernization and digitalization on the legal sector. Markedly, law firms are obsolete entities, still stuck on outdated procedures and not being equipped with the appropriate mechanisms to keep track with the demands of an ever-changing global environment. The pandemic served as a wake-up call to the legal industry and summoned professionals of the sector to adjust to the new reality by adopting new methods and technologies.

E-Lawyering is futureproof. While the notion is encountered in the global literature for years now, it is the last couple of years during which we notice the word trending in articles and over the internet.

The greatest challenge – inherent in all pioneering ventures – is that people are not familiarized and they need time to learn and trust the new type of services. And the difficulty is even higher given that we talk about the lawyer – client relationship. A relationship fundamentally rooted in trust and reliability. Distancing from the old-fashioned “brick-and-mortar” law firm and the face-to-face appointments, the lawyer has to intensively work to eliminate the client’s reasonable fear of being scammed.   

The good news is that information technology, when used wisely, can wipe out distrust, suspicion and distance. Nowadays, a lawyer possesses significant digital means in his/her toolkit. A toolkit that is underpinned by the fact that technological illiteracy has been almost eradicated. The modern clients seeking legal services are familiar with the use of technology, while a big bunch of them are tech-savvy people.

Moreover, there are advantages inextricably intertwined with e-Lawyering and the virtual legal practice in general. A virtual law firm has low overheads, thus being able to decrease the cost for the end – client, who can enjoy professional legal services at a lower expense. Furthermore, one of the key elements of e-Lawyering is decentralization. By embodying a decentralized business structure, a virtual law firm can cover greater territories, without having to be confined in one city or area.

The steps that I would suggest to professionals in the legal sector that wish to pursue e-Lawyering are:

  • Build a user-friendly and highly accessible platform / portal to help prospective clients reach you;
  • Showcase your expertise and practice areas with preciseness. Communicate the scope of your services with clarity. The notion of e-Lawyering and virtual law firm is already something fresh and new. You don’t want your prospective clients to be further frustrated;
  • Use a reliable law firm management software that will help your team sync and keep track of the cases’ progress. Communication among team members is pivotal;
  • In case you wish to go the extra mile, incorporate cloud-based legal technologies that will enhance the quality of your legal services;
  • Establish communication methods that can create a closer relationship with the client. You don’t want your client to consider your services impersonal. Human interaction is very important, in particular when we have to do with important legal cases;
  • Remember: It takes time for your work to strike a chord with the clients.

For the client who wavers whether he/she should proceed with e-Lawyering services or services provided by an old-school law firm, I suggest that he/she should go for the option that better fits his/her legal needs and personality. While virtual legal services do not fall short of the traditional ones, the client shall take all the precautions and implement due diligence to verify the reliability and trustworthiness of his/her e-Lawyers.  

As someone experienced in Banking laws, what are the improvements that you suggest?

Well, the scope of banking law is very broad, from capital requirements and buffers as stipulated under the Basel regime to securitization, crypto-assets and fintech companies. There are multiple aspects where improvements may be suggested, but what presents particular interest is FinTech regulatory framework.

FinTech is, in and of itself, a thorny area, like every subject matter involving tech regulations. The exponential growth of FinTech companies during the last years has been a real challenge for EU regulators, who lag behind the evolutionary technologies. The difficulty increases further due to the multi-pronged legal aspects surrounding FinTech: data protection, cybersecurity, consumer protection, competition and financial requirements are only an indicative example. For the time being, FinTech firms are small. Although, they can rapidly scale up expanding their businesses in riskier clients or niches.

The fragmentation of the EU regulatory framework makes the landscape even more labyrinthine, while the current legislation lacks special provisions. A single legal framework designed to tackle the perils and hedge the risks entrenched in the FinTech industry would solve the ambiguity and uncertainty prevailing in the area.

Of course, such work requires the in-depth knowledge and understanding of FinTech entities by the regulators. An EU Regulatory Sandbox, albeit far-fetched, would provide enough wiggle room for controlled regulatory experimentation. The usefulness and benefits of a regulatory sandbox have been already reported by EU member states that have established and operate sandboxes. What’s more, EU regulatory bodies may introduce an ex ante regulatory system, where applicable, in order to prevent the risks embedded in the operation of FinTech firms.

What are the negative effects of tech-startups that you’ve come across lately, and how far have you been successful in tackling them?

Tech start-ups are a hot topic during the last years and regularly adorn article’s headlines. Their negative effects have been extensively reported ranging from data leak, hacking, lock-in effects and other vulnerabilities.

Nonetheless, I would like to focus on the challenges that a start-up lawyer encounters. One of the core problems with start-ups is that, while the idea or the product/service may worth, they lack structure and often present administrative problems.

A lawyer’s challenge is to sense the very nuances of their work and help the company build from scratch, methodically and step-by-step their identity and strategy, adopt internal policies which conform with the legislation in force, while at the same time, portray the firm’s core beliefs. Tackling these problems requires ongoing legal support, steadfast guidance and bespoke solutions that fit the company’s needs.

Moreover, tech start-ups demonstrate a higher degree of difficulty entailing from the specific nature of the service or the product they offer. The lawyer has to deeply comprehend the scope and the functionality of the services/product, so as to suggest the appropriate technical and organizational measures that shall be taken by the company to ensure full compliance.

Furthermore, data breaches and cyberattacks plague tech startups, which are confronted with the possibility to found themselves in the crosshairs of regulatory bodies, due to vulnerable or insufficient technical and organizational measures. The start-up ecosystem is prone to data leak and cyberattacks for several reasons, with the lack of the necessary resources and a constrained budget being one of them. In particular, tech start-ups either have to compromise cyber-security in the shrine of financial budgeting or demonstrate a negligible stance towards security measures, as a corollary of the growth mentality that characterizes them. In any case, it is the lawyer’s job to punctuate and clarify the importance of security measures to thwart data breaches and hacking incidents.

Do you think smart work takes over people who are engaged in doing only hard work in this industry?

During the last years, we hear more and more about how smart work outweighs hard work. Markedly, there is a shift from the old-school “hard work mentality” that had been deified throughout the years, being ascribed the role of the quintessence of success, towards a “smart work” one. And to a large extent, this shift may be attributed to the overnight success stories circulating on the media.

From my point of view, smart work and hard work are the two sides of the same coin. It is only through hard work that a person can identify and adopt a motus operandi incorporating efficiency and effectiveness. Smart work requires in-depth knowledge and a holistic approach that can only be acquired through long hours, devotion and unwavering focus. There is not a shortcut.

Besides, may the seed of analytical reasoning skills and a strong acumen exist in a person, but it shall be watered in order to bloom and exercised in order for the person to deliver tangible results. Smart work goes hand in hand with hard work. 

Startups are leading like never before and so as LegalTech, how do you think LegalTech can create opportunities for lawyers?

We are navigating an era of digitalization and information technology that demands speed, resilience and flexibility. Sectors that cannot pace with this evolution are foredoomed to fail. Legal Tech emerges from the imperative need the legal sector to be revitalized. Admittedly, the vast majority of law firms around the world follow rigid and conservative methods and are usually reluctant or hesitant to adopt a new modus operandi.

Legal Tech is not just a vehicle or a supplementary tool, that helps lawyers to trace new opportunities. Legal Tech is a necessity. We are going through a shift in the tectonic plates of the legal environment, a shift that dictates the radical modernization of the legal profession. The old certitudes of the legal world will crumble sooner or later, and lawyers will have to adapt to the new conditions.

Some innovative law firms have already embraced Legal Tech and made it a part of their practice. It’s a matter of time Legal Tech to gain universal momentum and, as the theory of diffusion of the innovation suggests, lawyers will espouse the new practice and integrate it in their professional life.

Some of the perks that come with Legal Tech are automations. Lawyers will reap the fruits of automating administrative work, that can be proved tiresome and time-consuming, funneling their bandwidth into more productive and creative tasks.

In addition, data analysis softwares offer to lawyers the opportunity to map out their marketing strategy with precision, target specific group of clients and boost profitability.

Speaking of profitability, Legal Tech increases economies of scale, letting lawyers provide legal services more efficiently. This way, costs can be decreased, and earnings increased.

In closing, to make the advantages of Legal Tech more concrete, just picture documents piling on a desk. Now envisage a clean desk, empty of documents, tidy, with a computer or laptop on it. How stress relieving is that?

Lastly, some few advices for our young lawyers!

Stop sabotaging yourself and start taking risks!

You are not perfect, you will never be. Accept that and start working on improving yourself. Improve yourself not only by studying law and performing exquisitely in legal cases. Yes, your profession is a very important part of your life. But it is not the only one. The aspects of our life are like communicating vessels. Practice your skills in one aspect and you’ll see the gains sprawling over the others.

And by gains, I mean the traits, the mentality, the perceptions, the way of thinking you earn by devoting your time and focus on a particular thing.

By diversifying the aspects on which you are working, you are growing a more diversified skillset. And a multifaceted skillset means a multidimensional approach on legal matters.

Do not settle. Believe in something wholeheartedly and focus on accomplishing it. Set goals and look at them with an unwavering gaze. As Nelson Mandela said “It always seems impossible, until it is done”. Believe in you!

Get in touch with Katia Zigoulianou-

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