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Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast |  Vanessa Pantelakis

Vanessa Pantelakis is a partner at WOLPERT RECHTSANWÄLTE PartG mbB a part of the ILN’s German Group. In this episode, Lindsay and Vanessa chat about the mental health crisis that the pandemic has created for women and young girls, and how it has further revealed issues in the legal profession, but how remote working has also helped to create a greater work/life balance in many ways and given lawyers the ability to create better relationships with their clients. Tune in today! 

You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.

Lindsay:  Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I am your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is Vanessa Pantelakis from WOLPERT RECHTSANWÄLTE PartG mbB. Vanessa, welcome. We’re so happy to have you here.

Vanessa: Thank you, Lindsay. I’m happy to be here. Thanks a lot for having me.

Lindsay: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice, and your firm.

Vanessa:  For sure. I’m Vanessa Pantelakis. I am a partner at WOLPERT RECHTSANWÄLTE PartG mbB since the beginning of this year. I have joined the firm in 2016. We are a boutique law firm specializing in IP competition, antitrust, and contract law, and we’re situated near Frankfurt. We are, as you probably know, part of the German group, like all German law firms at the ILN, boutique law firms that are specialized in a particular field of law. And we are the one for IP competition law and antitrust and contract law. Yes.

Lindsay: Great. That’s great. And how about your practice in particular?

Vanessa: So in particular I’m handling trademark matters and competition law and sometimes also some contract law. That’s what I do all day.

Lindsay: All day.

Vanessa: All day. From the morning to the… No, just kidding.

Lindsay: Well, I’m sure you do have some late days some days though.

Vanessa: Yeah, for sure I have. Yes.

Lindsay: So let’s dive into our questions. I mean, I think, we’re getting used to, I would say, pandemic times now. But what would you say you think how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women in the workplace? And I know you’re in a little bit of a unique situation because your workplace is all women.

Vanessa: We are all women, that’s right, and we all do not have children. So diving into this question, I think the problem that the pandemic affected some people more than others is if you’re having children. Because if you do have children, there was a lockdown and you need to stay at home and the kids were there as well. And I think it’s really hard to combine those.

I think it’s also harder for single parents. So if they are alone, even though if it’s the father or the mother, most of the time it’s the mother for sure, but this is, I think, really, really hard. And so those parents had to take care of the children and need to do their job at the same time, and I think this is a double burden. But as you have asked me, and as I already said before, women were more affected because today, or nowadays, it’s still the fact that women are those, or mostly those, that take care of the children, so they were more affected by the pandemic because they need to combine both their job and also the child care, and I think this is a really, really hard time for them.

I read an article that three or four women, or mothers, work at least part-time next to take care of their children. So there were like 75% of women affected by the pandemic, so to say. And maybe as I do not have children, but I have a friend that has a two-year-old daughter, a really lovely girl, and, well, the nursery was closed and she need to take care of her daughter the whole day because her boyfriend needs to be out for work, so he kind of does the work remotely and she was at home with the girl the whole day and then she started… She just take care of her child the whole day, and in the evening started to work, sometimes until midnight. And this for one and a half years. And I think this was really, really, really hard for her and a really hard time.

I think this is why women were more affected by the pandemic. And this is a high risk to get burnout, maybe or other impacts, and I think the whole situation, or the whole impact, we have not seen yet that pandemic will have on all of us.

It’s not also all that, it’s only that the pandemic has effects on women. It also has on girls. I just read an article at the beginning of this week in a German newspaper that young girls, mental health issues increased by about 80% among girls that are aged 11 to 14. 80%. This is really hard. And I think for teenagers it was about 50%. And the article said that this is due to the fact that girls cannot handle or deal with crisis situations as well as boys can, and this is why the mental health issues for the girls were really harder than for the boys at that time, and the girls, even so, felt more lonely in that time because they cannot see their friends, as the boys. I don’t know why this is, but this is what the article said. So I think this will be also a big problem in the future. Yes.

Lindsay: That’s really interesting. I wonder if that’s because women tend to, and I hate to generalize, but I wonder if that’s because women historically have always worked more in communities and the pandemic has forced people to be, as you said, more alone, and so girls having to be at home. And the same thing with women in general, and that’s forced women to have to do things on their own as opposed to being able to rely on their communities.

Vanessa: Yeah, I think so. And I also think women tend to overthink things. So guys are often like, okay, well this is how we do it. And girls are like, okay, this, this, and then I have to do that and talk about that, and I think this is a big problem. And the boys, especially boys, are like, okay, well that’s fine. It’s okay for me, so I just deal with it. And so I think this is a big problem, the overthinking.

Lindsay: Yes. I remember I was a computer science major in college and the things that one of my female counterparts was studying was whether men’s ability to or willingness to just take things apart, whether or not they were able to put them back together later and women like to know whether or not they would be able to put them back together later. Women seem to like to know what the answer is going to be before starting, so we don’t try things as much. And so that was an interesting part of her senior thesis research because there were only four women in the whole department and everybody else was male, so we didn’t see that as much. And that could be why some professions are more male-dominated than female-dominated.

Vanessa: That’s a good point, I think.

Lindsay: Yeah, it’s interesting. Obviously, in your office, you haven’t seen the impacts of the pandemic on leadership and leadership opportunities. As you said, you started as a partner at the beginning of this year. Congratulations.

Vanessa: Thank you. I’m really happy about that.

Lindsay: Yes, and we’re happy for you. But have you seen in Germany that women have been affected by a lack of leadership opportunities? And, I mean, I think the world kind of looked to Angela Merkel as a very strong women leader, it’s certainly not unique that Germany has had some strong women leaders. But have you overall seen that there have been some limits on leadership opportunities for women?

Vanessa: Well, I haven’t seen it directly, but I can imagine why. Because through the pandemic, if you have children, as I already said, you need to do both taking care of the children and working, ] and if you have colleagues that are not that affected, they perform better for sure in their job. And if there is a leadership position that came vacant, they will go for the one that performs better during the last one or two years, and this will be the one that wasn’t that affected by the pandemic and the issues arising from that.

I think this is the same question as before because you were also still affected also with regard to leadership positions. And I think it’s also hard to combine a leadership position while you have a child at home or your children at home. So I think this is a big problem for the women that have children and need to take care of them.

Lindsay: And have you also seen that with people who are caring for elderly relatives as well? I hear we call that sort of the sandwich generation, where you have people who have young children at home but are also caring for elderly relatives.

Vanessa: Well, I have that, and one of my friends took care of her parents because she need to because nobody came to the home anymore. And so she was also affected in the same way, I think. So I think it’s the same problem. If you need to take care of somebody that needs to be taken care of, you’re affected due to the pandemic.

Lindsay: Absolutely. This, I think, is something that you saw in your office, the impacts on young lawyers who are still starting their practices, who aren’t maybe getting the benefit of being in the office as much, who missed out on periods of a couple of months, or a couple of years in some cases, of being in the office and learning from the more senior lawyers.

Vanessa: Yes. As you probably know, we had a young lawyer which started at our law firm at the beginning of COVID, three months before the pandemic happened. And so she was really affected from day one, so to say, because it was her first job. So she came out of university and just started her work at our office. And I think it was really hard for her because she cannot sit next to us and listen to us if we were discussing something with a client on the phone or if we have a meeting with the clients in the office because we started to work remotely at the beginning of the pandemic, and so everybody was at home in their own safe space, so to say. And yeah, I think this was a big thing that she missed.

But on the other side, we tried to just eliminate these issues, because due to the pandemic… Before the pandemic, we always had phone conversations with clients. And at the beginning of the pandemic, we started to have Zoom conversations and we saw each other, and then we also asked our young lawyer to participate so she could also benefit from us talking to the clients and giving them advice. So this is how we tried to overcome the issue.

And also what happened is if we have young lawyers, we sent them to training sessions, and all those trainings were canceled at the beginning as well. But in Germany, they really, really soon started to have online trainings and we put the young lawyer there and sent her to the online training so that she can learn there as well.

So I think we tried our best to give her the same opportunities that she could have if you are in the office, even though it’s for sure not the same. I think sometimes if you have a question and you just go to the next room and ask, “Hey, can you tell me,” or “how do you see this and that,” it’s easier to go just around the corner than to take the phone and call and just interrupt your colleague by saying, “Hey, I have a question.” And so I think this is what was really missed, the conversation between each other.

But also, we have improved because we had a daily Zoom conversation. So every day at 12:00 PM or AM, whatever, at 12:00, we have our Zoom conversation and sometimes we have a lot of things to talk about some cases about some stuff, and sometimes it’s just nice to connect and then say hello and say, “Oh no, I don’t have anything to talk about with you.” And then we just shut the Zoom conference down. But we saw other every day, so I think this was a good idea to have that implemented in our daily practice.

Lindsay: That’s really good. And do you think she’s adjusted? I mean I guess it’s hard to tell because for her she doesn’t know any different because it was her first job. But do you think she’s adjusted well since joining?

Vanessa: For sure. She does great and we are really happy to have her in our team, and I think it was the best way we could give her during the pandemic, and we’re really happy to have her in our team.

Lindsay: That’s great. That’s great. So how do you advocate for yourself during a time of global crisis? I think it’s obviously the first time it’s happened for us during our lifetime, so how do you advocate for yourself, I think, in terms of leadership, but also in terms of making sure that you’re taken care of in all parts of your life? Because at least I know for myself, I’ve worked from home for pretty much my whole career in this role. It’s easy to just get sucked in and work all the time.

Vanessa: Yeah, well, for me I think it was great because I save one hour a day if I don’t travel to the office, so I have more spare time and I can do little things in between. So do the laundry for half an hour while you have a phone conversation or something like that. So I think this is a big improvement for me. I know that not everybody is good at working remotely, but I really love it.

Because up to now there are not that many restrictions left in Germany, we can go to the office every day, but still, we have the hybrid model so that we can work from home or in the office like we like to do, but we have one day in the office where everybody has to be there so that we see each other in person once a week for sure. And yeah, I really liked it. So I cannot say that it affected me in any way because it give me so much more work-life balance, to be honest. So I don’t feel really affected by the pandemic for myself, but I know that many people are and I’m happy that I didn’t, but I’m really sorry for those that have been affected by the pandemic for sure.

Lindsay: But I agree with you because I think for a lot of people it did show a different way of working and it did give people time back and there were definitely silver linings. And I think as you say, you got that time back from commuting, it showed you that you did have the ability to work from home. And I think too, the ability to have Zoom meetings like this where you connected with people a lot more often in a different way, I think that’s been a real benefit too.

Vanessa: Yeah, it is. Especially with the clients, because, as I already told you, we have had phone calls before and our clients are situated everywhere in Germany, and also out of Germany, outside Germany, and I saw them more often. Some people I didn’t know face to face before, and due to the pandemic, you see each other and just had some conversations. I think this was a great benefit in the work together with the clients.

Lindsay: I agree. We had the same experience, I think, with the ILN, you got to know a lot more people and feel connected to them in a way that you weren’t before, which I think was really a nice benefit. So, as you say, the people that were affected, it’s been really terrible, but there were some benefits that came along with it, definitely.

Vanessa:  I think so too, for sure.

Lindsay: The legal industry itself has made a lot of changes in recent years and I think we’ve seen it really sort of accelerate over the last two years. But we still do have one of the highest incidences of mental health crises for everybody in the legal industry, not just women, because of the pressure of the legal work that’s done, the way that legal work is defined, and the way success is defined for lawyers. Do you think that we’ll ever change the way that the profession frames personal and professional success to alleviate that? I mean, I know some lawyers really do thrive on that pressure, but do you think that we’ll ever redefine the way that success is defined for lawyers?

Vanessa: Well, I would love to say yes, but I’m not really sure about that. But what I have learned in the last years is that young lawyers are currently very concerned about the work-life balance, and this is a question that is really asked in job interviews. So they ask for a work-life balance, but I’m not sure if this awareness will really bring a change in the future because I think as a lawyer there’s really high pressure all the time, not just in the team and at the workplace, but also from the clients. Because if they want a question to be answered, they always want the question to be answered immediately, and then you have to perform otherwise they maybe go and take a look for another lawyer. So you have to perform all the time. So I think it will maybe change for a little bit, but not that much, unfortunately.

Lindsay: I mean I think, as you say, at the end of the day, it’s always client driven. So whatever happens, I mean, the work-life balance that can be defined by the ability to work from home is great because then you can do your work from anywhere, but it’s always going to be the ability to answer the client’s question and do the client’s work. And until and unless the clients need things differently, the lawyers’ actual work is not going to change.

Vanessa: Yeah, right.

Lindsay: What would you say are your main challenges in today’s marketplace?

Vanessa: Well, I think we already talked about it, because it’s the work-life balance for me as well. I need to try to find the right way for me to combine both because I think it’s really important for your mental health. And, well, working remotely gives me more spare time, and I think this was a great benefit, as I already told you. However, if you work remotely, you also need to be aware of stopping to work, and sometimes you are sitting there and just walking by your office at home and you were like, just let me check for just a short email, or I read this article, and so on. So I usually stop myself if I’m working remotely, and I really stop at some point in the evening. So this is the main challenge for me, to find the right way to do it at home. But overall, as I already said, there were more benefits, so more advantages, for me personally.

Lindsay: That’s great. My email has started getting very bossy and it starts telling me now, are you ready to wrap up? And, do you really want to send that email, because it’s out of office hours now? AI is really something else.

Vanessa: We don’t have that security email thing, so I can send it without asking me, are sure that you want to send the email at that time? Are you really sure? I don’t have that security backup. Maybe I should think about it.

Lindsay: You might need it. It’s very funny. It only started recently. I’m not sure how it came about. But it really was shocking the first time it happened. I was like, okay, maybe I don’t want to send that email.

Vanessa: Really funny. But do you know where it comes from that it gets up? So has somebody changed the, I don’t know, the settings of your emails?

Lindsay: I think it’s Microsoft, because I use Outlook for my email clients, so I think it was Microsoft installed something.

Vanessa: We use Outlook as well. I’m not asked if I want to send out the email that late. Only if I don’t have a subtitle the email is directed to you. So this is the only thing where Outlook has asked me, do you really want to send that email without any topic? And I’m like, yes.

Lindsay: Yes, I get that too. This is the next stage. It’ll be coming. Just wait.

Vanessa: I’ll send you an email out of the time with information as well, I will do so.

Lindsay: One final question. Outside of everything going on at the moment with work, what is one thing that you’re really enjoying?

Vanessa: I really enjoy my spare time. I know it’s always the same, but for me, it’s like I have five hours more the week for my spare time. And what I also include in my routine is to have a walk within the day. So if I’m in the office, I don’t do that, to be honest, but at home, I always try to implement to have a little bit of a routine and just to go out and have a walk and do something for myself, for your mental health, for your body, and this is really great.

Lindsay: That’s so nice. Yeah, that’s really lovely the things you can do when you’re working from home and get a little fresh air.

Vanessa: I’m a big fan, as you probably heard out of the conversation.

Lindsay: That’s good. And it’s good for your clients too actually, because you get a break from your desk and you can think of new ideas, new ways to approach the matters in front of you.

Vanessa: For sure. For sure. Also, if I’m outside, I just have my phone with me and can also answer it if somebody rings me and wants to ask me a question or wants a problem solved, I can do that, also.

Lindsay: You’re never far away from your phone.

Vanessa: Yes, never far away. We are always there.

Lindsay: That’s right. Always.

Vanessa: Always.

Lindsay: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much to our listeners. We’ll be back next week with another guest. And when you have a moment, please rate, review, and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks so much.