Theodore S. Boone amerikai ügyvéddel, a Dentons Budapest Of Counseljével, a Corvinus Egyetem Gazdasági Jog Tanszékének oktatójával és az Amerikai Magyar Kereskedelmi Kamara korábbi elnökével beszélgettünk életútjáról és karrierjéről, amely egy illinois-i egyetemi kisvárosból New Yorkon és Washingtonon keresztül Budapestre vezetett, valamint arról, hogy munkája során milyen kihívásokkal kellett szembenéznie a jogi szakmának. Interjúnk második részében pedig Theodore S. Boone arról mondja el véleményét, hogy jelenleg milyen kihívásokkal néz szembe a jogi szakma a mesterséges intelligencia tekintetében, és hogyan kell a jogászoknak ezekre a kihívásokra válaszolniuk.
How and why did you become a lawyer and what are your practice areas?
I will give you a fairly short answer to that question, even though, as we all know, lawyers like to talk. I am a New York and Washington DC lawyer. I focus on complex international commercial transactions, working at the nexus of law, economics, policy and business. My work has involved, among other areas, information technology, financial institutions, manufacturing, energy, entertainment, transport, consumer goods, telecom, media, real estate, biotechnology and services. I have worked for private sector clients, governments, multilateral institutions and foundations.
I enjoy the fast-paced and high intensity atmosphere of the transactional world, of negotiations and negotiation strategy, of helping to take a cutting-edge transaction from start to finish and the sense of accomplishment that one can share with a client when a deal gets done.
I speak German and Hungarian in addition to my native English and welcome the opportunity to use those languages as the need arises. How did my career begin? In the US before one studies law, one studies something else at the Bachelor’s level. I grew up in the university town of Urbana – Champaign, Illinois where the University of Illinois, a large public research institution, is based. I received my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois. I studied a lot of German language literature (the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt being one of my personal favorites) as well as a lot of mathematics as a result of the encouragement of my father who was a mathematics professor at the university and who specialized in logic.
However, my first true intellectual love and passion was philosophy and in particular philosophy of law, justice and ethics and writings on political theory.
Above all I relished reading the works of Plato and Aristotle. Plato, with his dramatic dialogues such as The Republic providing multiple perspectives on a single question that I often imagined in my head as actual plays being acted out on a stage as I read them, was entrancing. Aristotle, with his relentless focus on logical reasoning in writings such as the Nicomachean Ethics, was inspiring. In the context of studying such timeless writings, I began to think more deeply about such fundamental questions as what justice really is. During this time, I also discovered deep in the stacks of the university’s Main Library a book by Columbia University School of Law Professor Wolfgang Friedman titled “The Changing Structure of International Law”. The content of this seminal treatise, which addressed subjects ranging from international law in its purest sense to economics, international organizations, the position of the individual and private corporations in societies, international politics and sociology, was fascinating and became something of a guidepost for me. These are some of the factors which drove me in the direction of law, international law and going to law school at Columbia University’s School of Law.
Given your original interests, have you ever considered a career in academia or you were always keen on becoming a practicing attorney?
I really love what I do, which is working on complex international business transactions as a hands-on practical results driven lawyer in the private sector here at Dentons Budapest and also teaching the next generation of leaders as a member of the Department of Economic Law at Corvinus University’s Business School. So, I have the best of both worlds. When I worked in Washington, DC as an Assistant General Counsel at a Big-Four firm, I also had the opportunity to teach a class once a week at Georgetown University Law School as an Adjunct Professor. At Georgetown I taught a class focusing on structuring, negotiating and documenting international business transactions. When teaching at Georgetown I brought my private sector experience directly into my class. I have continued that practice here in Budapest, via both mentoring our very talented Associates at Dentons Budapest and conducting workshop driven interactive seminars for future leaders at Corvinus University’s School of Business.
This is not your first time in Budapest. What brought you here at the very first time?
I have always felt comfortable in Europe. My father was, as I mentioned, a mathematics professor at University of Illinois, and, as academic families often do, we traveled abroad a lot. There were summers as a kid when I “abandoned” my role as catcher on my Little League baseball team mid-season to travel to Europe – one summer we even took the Bremen ocean liner from New York to Bremen and back. I also lived as kid for two years in Oxford, England, where I attended a classic all boys British school, and for a year in Bonn, Germany, where I was a student at a German Gymnasium. After I received my Bachelor’s degree and before law school I studied for a year in Munich, Germany at Ludwig-Maximilians University as a Fulbright Scholar. While I was studying in Munich, I took my first trip to Budapest. This was still the Iron Curtain days.
I took a taxi across the Chain Bridge from Pest to Buda and I was in awe of the incredible beauty and majesty of Budapest.
That always stuck with me, even though it was a little trip. In the summer after my first year at Columbia Law School, I had the opportunity to come to Budapest for a brief legal studies program where I was at Eötvös Loránd University’s School of Law where I met the then Head of the university’s Private International Law Institute, Professor Ferenc Mádl, who later served as President of Hungary. As a result of that experience, after I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1987, I was able to secure a fellowship through the US’ International Research and Exchanges Board, the main “East/West” exchange program at the time, to come to Budapest and conduct research on international joint ventures at Professor Mádl’s Institute. So that is how it all started in a professional sense. But I have to add that Hungary and Central Europe more generally always transfixed me, and I have always felt totally at home here.
And how hard was it for you to get used to the Hungarian legal system?
First, in terms of the Hungarian language, I started studying Hungarian from scratch while at Columbia Law School the year before I came to Budapest. Columbia was one of the few universities in the US which offered the study of Hungarian and I managed to secure a US Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship to study Hungarian and conduct research involving the region. This fellowship covered my full law school tuition for my last year of school and also provided a cash stipend – which was a great bonus since I wanted to study Hungarian anyway. The purpose of this fellowship program was to encourage graduate students to study “obscure” languages. This study of Hungarian gave me a basic grammatical foundation. When I came to Budapest, I couldn’t speak very well, but I was able to build on my initial year of Hungarian studies at Columbia. And so now I speak Hungarian and of course helped me understand the Hungarian legal system better and work on Hungary oriented deals. However, the US and Hungarian systems are very different because the Hungarian legal system is a code based civil law system and US systems are common law based. These are important differences.
For my work, which focuses on international business transactions, I feel comfortable and am, of course, able also to rely on my colleagues at Dentons Budapest who are true leading experts on a vast range of complex Hungarian law matters.
You were here the first time during the late 80s and the early 90s. Among Hungarian lawyers this time is referred to as the great old time. How did you experience these years?
I would divide my personal experiences during the first time I lived here into two periods. When I moved here the first time, it was 1987. This was well before the big historical changes of 1989. And the other period during that same time living in Budapest would be between 1989 and the early 1990s, during and after the regime change. Now that first period, before the regime change, for me as an American, as a kid who grew up in Central Illinois in a small town where there was a large university situated among the soybean and cornfields of the Midwest US, was fascinating to see and experience. To live in the environment before the political changes and to see how what was essentially an entirely state run and owned economy worked was eye opening, to put it mildly. And then of course, I had the fortune of living here and working here through the big historical changes, which started in 1988 and then really culminated in 1989 and 1990, because during this first stay in Budapest, I joined the Budapest office of a large international law firm which was the very first Western law office behind what was still the Iron Curtain.
What was it like to work at such a law firm as an American during those times?
I had fascinating work on joint ventures, incoming investments and privatizations. The first years of the 1990s were truly a Gold Rush period. We were all discovering new ways to accomplish transactions and to get them done. Everybody was discovering this together and of course that made it very enjoyable. During this time, I also continued to enjoy the culture and cuisine of Hungary, developing a particular taste for Pörkölt, Steak Tatar and Sómloi Galuska among other matters.
What came for you next after the Gold Rush in Hungary?
After the first years of the post 1989 Gold Rush in Hungary I moved to Washington, D.C., where I was based for many years. I first worked for one of the large Washington, DC based law firms. There I worked on both US based transactions and international transactions, some involving Hungary, but many involving other locations around the world such as Latin America, Asia, Western Europe and other countries of Central Europe.
One of the many interesting transactions I worked on during that time involved Bosnia and Herzegovina right after the Dayton Accords brought peace to that region.
In this deal two multilateral financing institutions provided loans to the Sarajevo Brewery to help in the economic and physical reconstruction of the country.
Then I had the opportunity to become an in-house lawyer as an Assistant General Counsel at a Big Four firm. The perspective and work of an in-house lawyer is quite different from law firm work. For example, as an in-house lawyer one works very closely with business people and gets to know the business of your one and only client, the entity where you work, very well. You also get to know how business people think. Another difference in my experience is that when you are an in-house lawyer, you tend to have maybe 20 different matters, both large and small, on your ever evolving to-do list and you are juggling all these balls in the air at once. Whereas when you are at law firm, my experience is that you might have 4 or 5 major projects that you are densely into rather than 20 projects of various sizes. For me, working at Dentons now, I think it was very useful to have the in-house Assistant General Counsel experience as now I know much better how an in-house lawyer thinks and how an in-house lawyer would want me as outside counsel to get the work done.
How did you end up at Dentons Budapest?
For a lawyer, no matter what level you are at, you always have to continue to grow and be nimble and be open to new experiences. I wanted to come back and live in Europe and fortunately I had the opportunity to do so. First, I was incredibly honored to be given the opportunity to join Dentons Budapest. I had been a great admirer of Dentons, Budapest and its leadership and Dentons generally, as the most global of global law firms, for many years. Dentons is the largest law firm in the world and its dynamic and proactive approach to the practice of law, combining the best of in-depth local knowledge and international expertise, is something that I greatly respect. Therefore I was very grateful for the opportunity to join the Dentons Budapest team. Second, I had the opportunity to become a member of the faculty at Corvinus University’s School of Business and to continue to keep my hand in teaching and working with the next generation of leaders. So moving back to Budapest was a superb opportunity. It was something new, but also coming home.
You graduated in 1987. Since then, what do you consider as the biggest challenges that you had to adapt to as a lawyer?
Certain aspects of the practice of law have changed a lot, but other aspects of being a lawyer and what is important for being a lawyer have not changed. When I started working, a telefax, where you would write something down on paper, put it in a machine and a copy would come out in another location, was a new invention. A telefax was considered a miracle because until then you had to send all materials in hard copy by express courier. As an example of those times, we had probably 50 photocopy machines going 24 hours a day in our basement at the large Washington, DC law firm I worked at, just making copies of documents that would then be sent out to clients and other parties because there was no electronic transmission. Also, and it is not a big point, but in the transactional world in the US prior to our digital driven world of today there were a lot more in-person meetings. It has become so easy to transmit documents and sign documents electronically and have multi-party conference and video calls that in-person meetings and transaction closings are not as common as they used to be, at least in the US. Now, in terms of efficiency and costs, you could say that is probably often better. The personal contact of work is something I really still enjoy. Here in Budapest I have found that in-person meetings are still often very important and useful, and that is something that I value and appreciate. But there are certain aspects of being a lawyer in private practice, all of which are ones that I value in my work, that have not changed, for example the need to operate in a practical get things done service oriented fashion, to be detailed oriented, to be able to think on your feet, to be creative, to approach unexpected developments as challenges to be addressed and to be able to relate to and work with people have not changed and I doubt they ever will.
Az interjú második részében arról beszélgettünk, hogy jelenleg milyen kihívásokkal néz szembe a jogi szakma az AI vonatkozásában, és hogyan kell a jogászoknak ezekre a kihívásokra reagálniuk.
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