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The ATL Interrogatories: 10 Questions with Peter Kalis of K&L Gates

Ed. note: This is the first installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by David Carrie LLC. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Peter Kalis is the chairman and global managing partner of K&L Gates.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next five years?

Although I’m tempted to do a passable imitation of a legal consultant and talk about globalization, innovation and the New Normal, all of which are important, in fact the fundamental challenge facing our industry over the next five years and beyond is to preserve the Rule of Law in a world in which an increasing number of globally significant economies have no comparable tradition and in which some governments don’t respect rights of individuals and enterprises. The world, our industry and our profession would be much different if norms we associate with the Rule of Law were defined downward as a by-product of globalization. I know it’s a stretch for an audience focused during difficult times on real and immediate career challenges to shift gears and focus on a seemingly abstract concept such as the Rule of Law. The times tend to divert all of our gazes inward. But there is no one reading this who is more self-absorbed than the least self-absorbed law firm managing partner.

We all need to do a better job when it comes to talking about and vindicating the Rule of Law in our day to day lives. I know that I do. With all of the misguided talk about vocationalism in legal education, moreover, I also worry that our law schools are not pounding away sufficiently at the foundational importance of the Rule of Law or the role of U.S. lawyers, among others, as its missionaries.

2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen the advent of a true market for legal services in which ideas and services are sharpened through competition, law firms wax and wane based on performance, and consumers of legal services are empowered to make retention choices based on value propositions. For lawyers and law firms willing to embrace competition, and of course for clients, the development of a true market for legal services has been transformative and positively so.

3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

In the last three decades, the practicing side of the profession has become more open, more scrutinized, more transparent, more competitive, more diverse, more global, more remunerative, more complex, more client-focused, more meritocratic and more interesting. What’s not to like about those trend lines? On the other hand, legal education is lost in a wilderness of self-doubt, operates with a business model that often confers upon its graduates more burdens than benefits, and as a result seems headed for a gigantic market correction. Lives and aspirations will be altered and likely not for the better.

4. What is the greatest satisfaction of practicing law?

Winning. Did I just quote Charlie Sheen?

5. What is the greatest frustration of practicing law?

Clients don’t retain you to lose, and there’s nothing more frustrating than delivering a bad result to a client who deserved much better.

6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?

We’re positioned at the critical crossroads of the 21st Century — at the intersection of globalization, regulation and innovation. With 46 fully integrated offices on five continents, we can address clients’ needs arising from the movement of people, products, services, capital and ideas across national borders. With leading policy and regulatory practices and offices in a dozen world capitals, we can address the ratchet-like interventions of governments into private markets. With leading IP litigation and prosecution practices, we can serve clients in the creation and protection of intellectual property. And, importantly, we’re fully integrated with a single profit pool, unitary governance, a single brand, no interior profit borders or firewalls, and we have all of the other operational and financial features that are emblematic of a truly integrated law firm capable of serving clients seamlessly across disciplines and around the globe.

7. What is the single most important personal characteristic for a successful lawyer in your field?

I’ve never met a single successful lawyer in any field who isn’t very smart. High intelligence is a prerequisite to success in practicing law because advising clients on how to deal with crushing legal complexity is very hard intellectual work. Of course, degrees of success can thereafter fluctuate based on levels of emotional intelligence, verbal capability, work ethic, a winning personality and so on. But you have to be very smart.

8. What is your favorite legally themed film or television show?

My Cousin Vinny. Sorry. I’m sure you wanted something more profound or trendy. But I watch “movies,” not “films,” and I go to the movies to be entertained, not to deceive myself into thinking that I’m spending a couple of hours immersed in an advanced art form on a par with literature, architecture, painting, sculpture or music. (I’m really happy that you disabled the comment function.)

9. What is your favorite legally themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?

Non-fiction: H.L.A Hart, The Concept of Law (1961) (affiliate link).
Fiction: Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) (affiliate link).

10. What would you be if you weren’t a lawyer?

My Mom and Dad ran a little Greek diner. I could see myself as a restaurateur. Or as a researcher for Above the Law.

David Carrie LLC is the legal search firm of choice for high profile law firms and organizations worldwide. David Carrie recruiters have a unique understanding of the motivating forces behind good placements — both from the perspective of the employer and the candidate. Our team includes attorneys who have practiced in the areas in which they perform searches. Many of our team members are former corporate executives who have been responsible for hiring lawyers for their companies. No one knows more about this process than we do. We have experienced it at every level.

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