Homburger welcomes its 25th French-speaking lawyer in Zurich


On parle aussi français! An interview with our partner Frank Gerhard

Homburger: Frank, you are yourself a native French-speaker, did you think that one day you would have 25 French-speaking lawyers practicing at Homburger in Zurich?

Frank Gerhard: Not really. When I arrived in Zurich in 1998 I was a first mover and, having grown up and being educated in Neuchâtel, did not even dream of a legal career in Zurich. At the time, the profession was very local and it was pretty exotic – as a Swiss-French educated lawyer – to come and practice in the «big city» of Zurich. Of course, I had to work twice as hard to get a grip of the language and the culture – there was no role model I knew that was around – but as often in life, especially in our profession, special efforts are rewarded in the end… To be honest: I never thought that we would, after 25 years, host such a sustainable cohort of 25 motivated and talented French-speaking lawyers under our roof, … and of course with that great French accent when speaking German [smiles]. I do my best to be a mentor for them at the firm and guide them in their Zurich integration.

HOM: Why do French-speaking young talents want to come to Zurich to practice law?

Frank: I hear several reasons in my conversations and interviews. First, language is less of a barrier today compared to 25 years ago; most of our work today is conducted in English. Second, a lot of young lawyers tell me they want to learn from the best and they tell me that in certain fields like corporate, M&A, private equity, capital markets, banking and finance, etc. they feel like it is better to be in Zurich for this purpose. Third, they see that we at Homburger have the critical mass of people and of cases in all our core practices, including in litigation. Finally, young talents want to move closer to the epicenter of the Swiss economy and to the people who are part of it. For that purpose, being in Zurich feels like the perfect «place to be» for them to thrive. Zurich has become a magnet for French-speaking people not only in the legal practice, but also in other industries such as finance or technology; more fluid study curriculums have also certainly helped to put Zurich on the map earlier on in the life of our French-speaking talents. And very finally, on a less serious note: Zurich is also «the place to be» if you want a vibrant social life, as it has many things to offer on that front too. Probably, Zurich is today the «third biggest» French-speaking city in the country!

HOM: Why does Homburger not have a physical presence in Geneva or in Lausanne?

Frank: After the opening by other Zurich-based law firms of operations in Geneva, we are the only top Swiss firm without an office in the Geneva Lake region. Nonetheless, we are very active in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Our litigation practice is flourishing in the light of our new hires and one third of our Corporate / M&A team are French-speaking lawyers. In a recent article about legal market development in Switzerland, I read that there are two ways to cover the country, especially the Geneva Lake region: either you «go local» or you do it the «Homburger way». We have regularly reviewed the «Geneva case» within our partnership, but each time we saw more drawbacks than opportunities for a firm with a culture and a focus like ours. You know, I worked a while in NY in a New York centric law firm in my career, and I realized that every lawyer of the firm always insisted to be in New York and not in one of the satellite offices elsewhere.  Having French-speaking lawyers working together with German-speaking lawyers under the same roof in Zurich is unique in Switzerland and contributes to a diverse working environment and an enhancement of our offering. So why separate our French and German-speaking talents when they all work so well together? Over the years, this strategy has really paid off and we are determined to continue on this inspiring path. The future is bright!

HOM: What do clients say?

Frank: Our clients are super happy, having these additional resources within our single-roof knowledge-sharing office in Zurich, which allows for tailored and high-quality advice in all national languages. Our traditionally strong footprint with listed companies in the Geneva Lake region (Alcon, Givaudan, Nestlé) has been strengthened in the last years with the addition of a whole universe of public and private healthcare and technology companies (such as ADCT, Addex, Galderma, Logitech, Sophia Genetics, Temenos, etc.) and a lot of family-owned businesses. This in turn has given our firm more exposure to France and we now also work for most French luxury groups, technology groups, banks and private equity funds.

HOM: What has happened to those French-speaking lawyers who did not stay with the firm?

Frank: Since I joined the firm in 1998, many French-speaking lawyers have followed and joined the firm and, as part of our natural turnover, many left our firm as well. I regularly organize an Alumni event for our former French-speaking lawyers and now more than 50 people show up. Some have left for different careers, e.g. in the diplomatic field, some have returned to local practice in the Romandie or even in international law firms, some have continued a career as a practicing lawyer in Zurich, some are realizing tremendous in-house careers as general counsel or the like (e.g. Laurent Sigismondi at DKSH Holding, Jean-Baptiste Emery at Alcon, Julien Gander at Idorsia Pharmaceuticals), some have joined public authorities (e.g. Marie Jenny is with the Takeover Board, Vincent Delaloye is a general attorney in Geneva) and some have even founded legal tech companies (e.g. Camille Auberson with Approovd). I am extremely proud of them and their achievements.

HOM: Frank, thank you for these great insights!