The Power of Argumentation
Are you interested in a life story of a person whose media image is based on close relationship with the Prime Minister, the fact that he drives a Tesla car, his birthday parties are held in Rudolfinum and the list of attendees is always discussed by the media long after? To my request for an interview he reacted quickly and positively. During the interview he was focused and his replies to my questions were really broad, touching the area of philosophy, literature, as well as historical film… Meet Radek Pokorný, for many a controversial advocate, founder of a successful law office, chairman of the Court of Arbitration, Moravian who is proud of his origin. What is his perception of today’s situation in advocacy and why wouldn’t he recommend it to his children?
The first question is going to be a bit unusual. Besides the Czech flag, the entrance to your new premises is also marked by the flag of the European Union. Is this because of your clients?
No, we have had this flag since the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 because I am a big supporter of the European integration. I consider it a dream come true of Masaryk, Beneš, and many others. With regards to our history and the size of our country, it is simply not possible to speak about some independence.
Your life story of a boy from the lodge coming to the circles of the big Prague advocacy could serve as an inspiration for writing a novel…
I don’t hide the fact that I had started as a sheep herdsman, cutting grass on the meadows, growing potatoes and garlic. I am a countryman. My father, originally a forester, also graduated from the law faculty true distance learning. I chose law studies as a combination of the possibility to use intellectual abilities, enjoying a certain level of freedom, and at the same time a possibility to make money another way than selling because I don’t consider myself a pure salesman, in a sense cheaply buy – costly sell. The system of hourly rates, which you first agree about and then you focus on the work itself, suits me well. The first big break point for me was switching from the law studies in Brno to Prague. Till that time, I visited Prague just twice for a short trip. I remember when I needed to go from the Faculty of Law to Wenceslas Square I used to go through Národní třída because I remembered this way from my trips. After November 17 another break point came when I got an opportunity to start working in the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly as an assistant. Then I worked as an associate for Pavel Rychetský for three years and immediately after I founded my own office. I wanted to try standing on my own feet.
However, you wouldn’t recommend law studies to your children…
My children are still relatively young, but already now you can see that my son is interested in computers and daughter in biology and new technologies. It looks like they will be active in the fields which are considered perspective these days. After twenty years when advocacy was profitable, now it acquired the position of a commodity where the price pressure is enormous and nobody is asking about the quality anymore. The time when top advocates went rich is gone. During my carrier, I could see that lawyers were first authorised by general managers, then senior attorneys, and today our partners are mostly buyers who buy everything from toilet paper to legal services and find pleasure in negotiating the fixed rates. Those who assign the tasks do not intend to work for the company for long either and their priority is to save as well. I am amazed that half of the best grammar school students still want to study law, it seems they don’t have the market feedback yet. Looking at the current developments, I believe that especially advocacy will list among endangered professions.
Your business card carries a motto “the power of argumentation”. So, it is not about the arguments anymore?
Less and less… Everything which becomes a commodity is about the price… Have a look around the Czech supermarkets. Arguments are considered by a private client or a client who is helpless and comes from abroad. But if the higher cost of services is approved by a common buyer for example in the bank, he will be suspected of support or favouritism. And since most agreements don’t become subject of argument anyway, the quality is actually not even recognised. And if they do become subjects of argument, then it takes a long time before the quality is proved and it is always possible to blame it on somebody else. I don’t say it is the clients’ fault. The market says that price became an important part of purchasing services including commercial law services. Remember the film “Love among the rain drops” and the character of a shoemaker with his quality shoes who was not able to face the pressure and competition of less quality but cheap shoes from Baťa. Not even the fact that he ran interesting performances, in today’s terminology, in front of his shop could help him. Luckily, our clients are still able to feel the value added, but if this was going to change, I openly declare that I would leave the office to my colleagues and choose an early retirement. Under the conditions when I know that I have exactly four hours for a concrete task, I don’t want to work.
How does it feel to be on the top for twenty years?
I don’t know if I have been on the top for twenty years… Rather the work as such is demanding. I agree with the opinion that success consists of 10-20% of your diligence, 10-20% of your talent, and the rest is about luck. By the way, this is nicely described in the book “Beauty of randomness”. The luck is simply essential. I have personally reached a crossroads several times. For example when we worked for advertising agencies a lot and around 2000 the multinational companies started buying out the Czech advertising agencies and we got a proposal from one auditor company to become their partner in legal services. I was thinking about it a lot, I was afraid the Czech advocacy could end up the same way as those advertising agencies. We did not accept the offer and I am glad for that. At that moment I was deciding more or less intuitively, but I can feel that luck played a big role back then. It is also about personal meetings. It happens that you accidentally meet someone and a few years later you meet him again and he needs something. If the circumstances had ganged up, it could have finished completely differently. And on top of that, football is played till the very last minute, so the story is still open.
Is it necessary that a good lawyer is controversial?
When somebody loses something, he usually does not admit. People are projecting a client into his lawyer. We are not engaged in criminal law, so nobody can accuse me from saving a murderer. On the other hand, we represent the cases which are controversial: D47 or ŠKODA Transportation against Czech Railways, and other companies. You are so to say first at hand and I perceive that as a part of hourly rates. Sometimes, I try to disprove some statements in the media, but there is no interest. It simply is part of this work, otherwise you can’t do it.
Can we split advocates into those who are rather on the side of the state and those who stand against it?
It often changes. We don’t work for the state, the only subject which is an exception is ČEZ because we have specialised in energy since 1998 and for example in the area of nuclear safety you won´t find another client. We have never worked for the state, ministries, regions, or public sector and we will never do. My mentor Pavel Rychetský used to tell me that “the client is the biggest enemy” and in case of the state when the ministers, presidents of regions, or mayors change, it is you who is so to say “first at hand”. When your life is being made difficult by the adverse party or the third party, you can handle that, but if it is your client, it gets much more difficult. I don’t want to get in the situation when I will have to say to my client something about his predecessor in the position. And we already mentioned the pressure on cost, many offices which depended on the contracts from the public sector got into existential problems.
You mentioned Pavel Rychetský as your mentor, who and how do you mentor? And which way do you manage your office?
We need quite many associates, so despite my view regarding the future of advocacy, I don’t discourage young people from it so much. However, I openly point out that the perspective is problematic. Our office, which has 40 lawyers, is based on people who never worked anywhere else. All my attorneys and senior attorneys have been with us since school. Therefore the office holds tightly together, which is what I always really strived for. I think, there are hundreds of good people, they know everything more or less the same. I don’t really believe when someone says that he is a genius in something. If a person is not stupid and gets quality work, then you always reach a certain level. However, I strongly believe that people differ in their characters and mutual behaviour. That’s why I have never pulled over people from other offices and I have never wanted people who already had a job experience before. I often talk to senior attorneys because life is complex and not many people want to see that. Advocacy is rather specific in the fact that quite many things you have to discover yourself. However, it may be speeded up and an individual does not have to touch every fire. I have myself already quoted Pavel Rychetský or Pavel Vorák, who returned from America at the early 90s and taught me that “in the politics it is not the facts that matter but what people think about the facts”. First, I found it very cynical and after some time I think that the statement applies not only to politics. It takes a long time before a person learns that slander can turn the world more than anything else. I share these things and it depends on everybody what they take from it.
What about advocacy and women?
My experience shows that women tend to be more complicated, but if they turn out well, they are the best. I started the office with many women. Together with Lenka Zdvíhalová we were starting up the work for ČSOB after the IPB fall. Šárka Marková started M and A transactions for ČEZ, Lenka Knopová was in charge of a law suit against Setuza. Women tend to intriguing, but let me repeat again that those who turn out well are not only professionally capable and very careful, but also loyal and they don´t have a so-called secondary agenda. I am proud that I have more than a half of women in leading positions. I also believe that women should stay at home longest possible, preferably forever, but if they don´t want to be at home, we offer 6-hour employment too. But only for those who already worked here. I am proud of my team and that is the reason why I still want to continue working.
What makes you happy in your personal life?
Family… I didn’t have time for more. I am glad that I did not miss my children’s childhood. It was at the expense of specific hobbies which I don’t have many of. I like wine and reading. More hobbies would be at the expense of the family, which I didn’t want.
So, no dreams waiting to be fulfilled?
Well, I came to Prague and stayed in a flat with no heating. There was 7 °C and I crawled into my sleeping bag and on New Year’s Eve 1992 used the oven in the kitchen as my heating and read “Development of state” from Peroutka. So, for me a dream come true is that I did not get lost in Prague and I can be independent. Except for working for Pavel Rychetský, I have actually never been employed. And I still have the same wife, which is also fine.
By Linda Štucbartová