An interview with Latham Watkins’ Juan Picon
by Lauren Biszewski, Esq.
Why did you decide to work for Latham & Watkins at this particular time?
My decision to leave DLA was very difficult, particularly as I was only 2 years into my first term as global co chair. However, I already devoted eleven years in management for DLA. During my final year, I spent more than 200 days on the road. Moreover, my base was really in the UK, not Madrid, so it was very taxing on my family. Most importantly, I really missed client contact and the technical side of the law. My clients are my passion; I love to help them find solutions and achieve their goals.
Latham presented a challenging opportunity to me. Latham had a small but high quality office in Madrid with sophisticated clients and ambitious growth plans. Latham tapped me to drive the office to its next phase of development. We seek to provide a full suite of legal services in Madrid. Since I have joined Latham, the office has grown from 18 to 40 lawyers, with plans to add more. I am enjoying increasing our size in my native country. Latham’s confidence in me to take the Madrid office to the next level is thrilling.
How has the move to Latham affected your work/life balance?
My work/life balance is still challenging but just having a home base in Madrid makes everything else easier. My focus first and foremost is on Madrid, and so my global travel schedule has slowed significantly. I missed many of my son’s soccer matches last year. This year I hope to spend considerably more time on the touchline!
How do you spend your time?
Because I have such an exceptional support team in the administrative, business development and marketing areas, I am able to spend most of my time working with people-both my colleagues and clients. Latham certainly rolls out the red carpet for the support of its lawyers and clients alike.
How important to you is maintaining a role in Firm Leadership?
With the passage of time I look at titles with a level of detachment. They are more external reassurances. I joined Latham to help with its ambitious project in Spain. If I can support the firm while serving my colleagues and clients, I will be happy. After so many years in management, I realize that enjoying the pure practice of law is most important to me.
How is your experience at Latham different than your experience at DLA?
I really enjoy Latham’s global perspective on its practice. There is not a strong focus on the local factor. Latham is one of the few firms that does not produce a P&L by office. Instead, we are measured by our contribution to the firm as a whole. This sends a powerful message to all that we are part of a global organization. It eliminates some negative behaviors that may otherwise arise. It decreases pressure on all of us and makes everyone’s business experience more positive.
The firm is highly collaborative, across practices and borders. It has a wonderful system to encourage the sharing of clients fully recognizing both the origination and the proliferation of clients, which fosters strong collaboration among practices and offices.
In addition, I am impressed by the influence young lawyers have at Latham. The power, intensity, and value of the associates committee is remarkable. The cooperation between the associates and partners as well as the input of young lawyers into management decisions is inspiring. For example, our associate committee assists in associate evaluations, setting performance and progression expectations, as well as having input into recruitment. This committee is empowered to have an impact on all aspects of associate life.
I am also impressed by how Latham looks after their alumni and retired partners. The focus is on people when they join as a summer trainee and continues until they retire from the firm, a full circle of support.
What are your long-term goals for the Latham Madrid office?
Simply, we wish to be the most relevant and international “go to” firm in Spain. We have both sophisticated clients and talented, quality people; I believe that in three to five years it will happen.
Moreover, I would like to increase the number of lawyers in Madrid to about sixty. Currently, we have forty attorneys in our office, so we are well on our way. We are committed to provide a full service, high quality office in Madrid. We are fortunate to be pulling outstanding talent into all areas.
As the Co-Chair of the Latin American practice at Latham, what are your plans for the further development of that practice?
The Latham partnership is extremely supportive of our LATAM and Spanish practice; it is viewed as a top priority within the firm. Our practice is regularly ranked as one of the top international practices in Latin America by publications such as Latin Finance, IFLR, The Legal 500, Latin Lawyer, Latinvex, and others. We shall continue to increase the size and scope of this powerful practice leveraging on our understanding of the nuances of the region, combined with unsurpassed transactional and dispute-resolution experience.
An example of our commitment is that the former Spanish Prime Minister, (96-04) Jose Maria Aznar, has joined us at Latham His contacts will be critical in our further development of business in LATAM. Prime Minister Aznar helps us to connect the dots between LATAM and Spain. His contributions will be instrumental in ensuring that we establish the strongest relationships possible with our Latin American clients and co counsel.
Further, we plan to continue to service our clients through our US and Spanish offices in collaboration with the top firms with whom we do business in Latin America.
Our platform is defined not only by how we do things, but also by the things we avoid doing. We are very mindful of our approach and the needs of our clients. For instance, we are not interested in opening a lot of offices in LATAM to compete in their domestic markets. Instead, we seek to lever our relationships in key countries, go deeper with our current clients, develop our relationships and move forward jointly and collaboratively with our LATAM partners.
Our clients are generally very sophisticated global businesses and are not concerned about our location. A wonderful example of this is our current representation of an Argentine subsidiary of a Spanish leading company. Both our Madrid and New York offices are working together with a top Argentine law firm on this project. Together, we are serving our client in the best way possible, all offices and lawyers closely collaborating to the satisfaction of both the client and the local Argentinians.
What is your greatest challenge right now?
Our biggest challenge now is the integration of so many new lawyers to the Madrid office of Latham. We have doubled in size during the last four months. We are growing by adding high quality lawyers from other firms while also nurturing existing talent. It is important that we all work together to move seamlessly in the same direction. I believe this will be accomplished by providing a level of respect to all that work in our office, a culture of inclusion as well as finding ways to make people happy to come to work.
Integration of all of our talent is my primary focus at the moment. We invest a lot of our time making things work. Currently, we have weekly partner and of counsel meetings, we have established a formal mentoring system in the office and we have a committee dedicated to integrating new Latham lawyers. All of these factors work together to ensure a smooth transition.
How would you describe your personal leadership style and how do you maintain a congenial rapport in your office?
I like to lead by example. It’s part of my DNA. I never ask people to do something I would not do myself. I enjoy surrounding myself with quality people, and am thankful that I am able to do so. Luckily, I have the ability to attract professionals that may be smarter or better than me.
Beyond that, I believe in being inclusive of new ideas and different views. I appreciate feedback and am open to constructive criticism.
I also believe that being as transparent as possible leads to better overall satisfaction. I try to share as much information as possible to ensure our people stay involved and feel a part of our success. My goal is for everyone including the staff to take ownership of our business. I believe creating a sense of ownership is vital in looking after great environments and creating opportunities.
Finally, we could not produce such consistently excellent work without an outstanding support staff; I like to recognize that. Their work is critical. The first call into any law firm starts with the staff! The experience a client has at first contact may influence his or her choice to work with our firm.
What qualities do you seek when hiring?
My late father who was also an attorney taught me that many lawyers will be more intelligent than me, but it will be my choice as to how many lawyers will work harder than me. I believe that I have worked very hard throughout my life to achieve all I have.
Accordingly, I look for those that work hard but are also flexible. We do not look at lawyers by the numbers they post, but we value each as an individual and by the overall contribution they make to the firm. Our office is changing to accommodate more mobile and remote work. We are in the business of output. How we achieve that output is secondary. Quality work may be done outside of our office and we support that.
Do you consider yourself a risk taker?
Recently, I was surprised to be invited to speak at an event for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. I wondered why they chose me. When I asked the organizer why I received the invitation to speak, he stated that he considered leaving a comfortable position as Global Co Chair of a leading firm to start over in an office of only 18 lawyers as risky. In accepting that challenge, I too am a bit of an entrepreneur. Having spent so many years at my previous firm, starting again elsewhere could be considered a daunting task. But, I am inherently a builder and delight in assembling a great team. I also really enjoy working with young people. They give me great energy and passing my knowledge to the next generation is very rewarding.
What is your greatest accomplishment, memory or the highlight of your career?
I am really proud that when I moved from Squire Patton Boggs to DLA in 2006, my entire office had enough confidence in me to join me in the move. They followed me over and I am grateful for that loyalty. It was very gratifying to me to know I created such a close-knit group of people that wanted to stay together. In a short space of time, we have seen this sense of togetherness and comradery at Latham too.
What do you enjoy most about the law?
I appreciate the ability to be of help to people, to assist them in solving difficult problems, closing a deal, or finding the perfect solution. As I am inherently commercially driven, I enjoy the strategy, policy and big picture focus of practicing law the most. The challenge of finding the best way to serve the client as well as the intellectual side of the law is very exciting.
What advice would you give to future/young lawyers?
There is an old Spanish saying, “attitude is altitude.” As we know, the world is very competitive. To succeed, I believe that one must have a winning attitude and positive outlook. If you fail, get back up and keep fighting for your dreams. Never ever give up! One should not be subdued in his or her- pursuit of goals. One must have passion, and it will be contagious. If you are inspired, the people around you will feel it.
In a world with so much technology, the importance of the human touch and good values should be emphasized. Always remember the basics and have positive values as well as committed principles. In light of the current world order, generally, the best advice I can offer is simply to strive to be an honest and decent person.