Perhaps when you’re about to meet a German lawyer, you expect an austere, disciplined clerk, and a blatant, dry chat. But Marc Müller from BRAUN PARTNERS shatters this idea to pieces in no time. Perfect knowledge of his work, and at the same time a lively and funny narrator.
AK Braun Partners says that your specialization is Energy Law, Compliance & Corporate Governance, German Law and Public Procurement. That's a very wide shot. Which of these areas keeps you most busy? Do you ever feel like you’d need two heads?
Energy and German law undoubtedly occupy me most. I estimate that both areas together take up 70% of my work. In my opinion, four "specializations" are still manageable. I also have to admit that I have a great team of people in every area – we’ve known each other for a long time, we know how to work, so we are very complementary in the end; and, this way we can effectively help the client. No less important is the fact that I have been dealing with this legal area for more than 15 years (at least if we are talking about Czech industries), and German law is basically my foundation. Fortunately, so far the second head is not needed, but sometimes a second Müller would come handy to be in two places at the same time (he laughs).
When it comes to energy law, many people are likely to come up with the term "solar barons". Are there still legal disputes in it, or is the essence of this specialization in other areas?
Obviously, legal disputes are still about investments in solar power plants. Unfortunately, the term “solar baron” has very negative connotations. Investors that we represent at bpv Braun Partners - both domestic and foreign - took advantage of the offer from the Czech state in 2008–2010 and invested in good faith and without ulterior motives behind being involved in green energy. Often they were power plant owners (whether we are talking about solar or other type of energy) in several EU countries.
Among the most significant disputes in which we represent our clients are a number of well-known arbitration proceedings. In the last one (perhaps one with a good end for the investors), the final decision is being made. Furthermore, we are acting on behalf of our approximately 40 solar power plant operators (again foreign and domestic) in a dispute that arose over the question of who is obliged to finance the recycling of solar panels. We believe that operators are not the obligated investor and we have successfully defended our stand before the court in nine cases and won the case. Thanks to these final rulings, we have recovered the state funds the operators were forced to invest in recycling. Now the case has reached the Supreme Court, but other operators are still joining, as they are being pushed by time and at the risk of becoming time barred. But my specialty is not just solar cases. It is primarily classical energy. I learned it literally from scratch during my ten-year career at E.ON. I had the opportunity there to gain experience in the field of energy law from the best - my colleagues at that time, who had been dealing with this issue for over 20 years. Today I benefit from it for our clients - both in the case of regular and new energy suppliers, distribution network operators and so on.
Compliance & Corporate Governance - Especially corporate compliance is, at least from my lay perspective, an awfully wide area, both outwardly and internally. Is it still most a sphere of law, or is it more a matter of internal company rules?
I personally focus on the part of compliance and internal functioning of the company. Mainly I advise (and again benefit from my long-term valuable experience from a large corporation) clients how to set up processes and documentation and how to prevent related problems. These are primarily training of employees and preparation of documentation. Given that this also includes cartel issues, criminal liability of legal entities and so on, this is a wide range of areas and therefore it is always necessary to work very closely with the client. It is a two-way process: on the one hand, there is a client who understands his/her business, on the other, us, who have to perceive his/her knowledge and set up his/her services so that ultimately the business works, and ideally even better. A lawyer - however clever - who does not try to understand what a client is doing is rather a dead loss in this case.
Are there many people interested in your services in this area? What is actually important in law? For me as a layman, it seems to me that it is not just a matter of bills.
The demand is huge and I see a trend: interest is increasing whenever there is news in the media, for example, that a company has been convicted of criminal proceedings or has been fined for violating competition rules. There is interest in adjusting company documentation, guidelines and so on, but also in training management and executives.
The areas you work with don’t seem like matters for short affairs. Are there cases you have been dealing with for years?
I personally believe that the relationship between a lawyer and his/her client shouldn’t be a short affair. It is true that it usually starts with an urgent problem, but the aim is that the client can always turn to the same lawyer when s/he is unsure or worried that s/he is at risk. And for us this means, we don’t want them to be worrying about the clock, as for when s/he calls or writes. Our services for such a client can always only improve with time, as then we are acquainted with their activities and them for a long time. But it is true that, for some things, it looks like they never want to come to a conclusion. For example, arbitration concerning the 'solars' or some of the legal proceedings I have in Germany are not yet over. But even in these cases it is necessary to stand behind the client and explain to them why this happens.
And naturally, also together with Arthur Braun, you are a connoisseur of German law. For example, the case around Viktoriagruppe came to the public. Is there a lot of Czech-German disputes?
Viktoriagruppe is probably the most important dispute I have had in Germany in the last five years. And I am happy to say that we have already won the first two instances for the Treasury! Otherwise there are a lot of disputes. This shows that successful Czech companies are also active on the German market, and with such activity there is a logical risk that the German partner will not pay you or may claim that the services or goods are not of good quality. We often have cases where a German partner or customer gets into trouble or insolvency, in which we also help clients defend their rights. Unfortunately, often in the cases of small and medium-sized Czech companies the German partner thinks they can do whatever they want with them. Then they are very surprised to see a German lawyer from Prague, who advises the client in Czech, but also appears before German courts.
AK Braun Partners also has a branch office in Slovakia, so the next question is: are there a lot of Czech-Slovak disputes?
Not many. We have a few Slovak clients who have difficulties in Germany; we are helping them. But in general, the Slovak market is much more oriented towards Austria.
Which cases are you particularly proud of in the company?
For me personally it is definitely the case of Viktoriagruppe, when I successfully represented the Czech state. I am also glad for such cases where long-term cooperation arises on the basis of a mutually good and satisfied relationship. These are often companies that came to us with great problems with their German clients. We have solved the problems; we have prepared new documentation for further purchase orders with our clients and thus helped to reduce possible future inconveniences. Today, clients are not only looking for our services when they have a major problem, but to be sure they automatically contact us before signing every contract. This way, we can prevent potentially wrong conditions or misunderstandings. The relationships have therefore evolved into continuous counselling. Actually, it is not so much about pride, but about the fact that the clientele comes back to us. This is the greatest reward for a lawyer.
German and Czech law ... Are there any areas where it would be nice to transpose certain - to put it simply - bills?
Honestly? Not exactly. It is true that both legal systems are very similar, but Czech law is in many areas more modern and also easier applicable. Take energy law, for example: in Germany it is so complex and divided into so many bills that even the heads of my colleagues who specialize in it go spinning. It is neither here nor there perfect, but from my point of view the Czech legal system is of good quality and it’s fair. I do not believe that the grass in the West is greener. Often it is just a semblance and in my opinion the reality is the opposite.
Why did you actually settle in Czechia?
I was intrigued by a girl I met in Prague in 2004. She's my wife today. So after a year I started looking for a job in Czechia. I got an offer from E.ON, closed a law firm in Germany and I stayed here. And I will stay for good. I was probably lucky - at that time my father worked in Prague for one German company as an executive and I was visiting. Or it was simply fate.
You and your colleague Braun speak Czech. Was it difficult for you to learn Czech or do you have a talent for languages?
It is certainly talent for Mr. Braun. He was one of the first Western students at the Law Faculty in Prague and has been here for over 25 years. I had it easier. My mother comes from Prague, so we spent here several weeks every year. Although I had never spoken Czech very well, rather at the level you speak to grandparents, but somewhere in my head the language stayed stored. When I started working at E.ON, I spoke very quickly and learned “normal” Czech. It also helped that I worked in a Czech company, having a lot of Czech friends, avoiding the expat community, so I was forced to speak Czech on every occasion.
Germany is generally associated with discipline and accuracy, while Czechia is connected with improvisation and the ability to “joke about everything”. Do you think this is true? Did you have to get used to something in Czechia and does a Czech person have to get used to something Germany?
Personally, I see no difference. I know my Czech colleagues and friends as very precise and disciplined. Maybe it is also because I am not quite a typical German - I lived in Italy for a long time and in America for some time. I think that my colleagues had to get used to me. Sometimes they didn't understand my style of humour, which they have in common with Germans (he laughs). When I follow developments in the West, sometimes I just shake my head at how they are behind with some things (I mean e-government, for example). It is true that Czechs are more flexible and open to new things, which is a very nice trait. This is all the more so for a lawyer who sometimes needs a client to take a different position from the original concept and accept certain changes. And that is something that is quite useful in my profession.
Marc Müller (born 28th April, 1975 in Remscheid, Germany) is a partner of bpv BRAUN PARTNERS.
He studied law in Freiburg and earned an MBA in Financial Services (Cardiff, Wales).
He worked as a lawyer and head of the legal department in E.ON ČR.
#He is married and has a seven-year-old son Noah Gabriel.
He is a great lover of Star Wars, basketball and Thai box. He considers traveling the greatest relaxation.