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Interview with Juan Luis Balmaseda de Ahumada Díez, president of BGI and Balms Abogados

Departamento de Comunicación

04/05/2021

Entrevista a Juan Luis Balmaseda de Ahumada Díez, presidente de BGI y Balms Abogados

Balms Group International (BGI) is the first and only international network of law firms created and led by a Spanish firm: Balms Abogados. The "father" of the idea, its president, Juan Luis Balmaseda de Ahumada, reviews these 25 years in which BGI has managed to bring together more than 35 offices from 27 different countries throughout 5 continents.

·      How did the idea of creating a group of international law firms emerge?

In 1995, Balms Abogados was about to celebrate its 7th anniversary, a number that for me has always been magical and has always motivated me. That year, with our offices running in Madrid and Marbella and about to open the one in Vigo, we had a clear vocation to be part of some of the networks that already existed and that were still exceptional in their number, and the vast majority of them were a more or less select club of firms. But, from the point of view of union, legal services and ways of working and even of understanding the network itself, did not coincide with what we were looking for, so we began to consider the possibility of setting up our own international organisation.

Said and done: I started to travel to London, to Gibraltar and from there BGI arised. The name was chosen with Balms Abogados as the pioneer and leader of this initiative. So much so that we have been in existence since June 1996.

I always say that BGI is also my eldest child because my daughter Carlota was born in the same year (1996) but in December, only a few months after BGI.

·      What does it mean to you to have been the promoter of the first international grouping of law firms with a Spanish brand?

There is no doubt that BGI, for all the partners of Balms Abogados, for my partner        Julio Aguado and for me in particular, is like a son of whom I feel very proud and, above all, it makes me feel older, as 25 years have passed in a twinkling of an eye.

BGI is the first international network of law firms led by a Spanish firm and a source of pride for the Spanish legal profession. We are the first international network, at least as far as I know, led by a Spanish firm, which, although the majority speak English and use it as a means of communication, Spanish and English will be essential from the very beginning, given its foundation.

And above all, it is a satisfaction for us to have been able to help many Spanish SME´s to develop and initiate their international expansion and to assist our clients in the various support needs, either in legal, tax, or labour terms..., that they have been able to obtain in the different jurisdictions in which we are present.

·      How many offices and how many countries are part of BGI?

We are currently 35 offices in 27 different countries in the 5 continents, and when we can start travelling again, when COVID-19 lets us, I will finish the Due Diligence we have already started, as we have planned for our next Congress in Athens 2022 (this year 2021, like last year, we have had to suspend our International Congress for health reasons) therefore we hope to be present in 35 countries, specifically in:

       - Germany (office with offices in Berlin and Stuttgart)

       - Portugal (offices in Oporto, Lisbon and Algarve)

       - Italy (offices in Milan and Rome)

       - Israel (office with offices in Tel-Aviv)

       - Egypt (office with offices in Cairo)

       - Peru (office with offices in Lima)

       - Azerbaijan

       - USA (Dubai and Abu Dhabi)

       - Georgia (Dubai and Abu Dhabi)

       - Switzerland (Zurich and Gaastad)

In these countries, we are practically already working together, but, formally, we have not been able to complete the incorporation process, for the obvious reasons of COVID-19 during this last year and a half and due to travel restrictions.

·      What is the purpose of BGI, how do you complement each other and how do you help each other?

BGI is an international network in which we do not only operate with a standard corporate and company structure. BGI has its own Articles of Association, with its own requirements, the subject with an entry and exit regime, its corporate image and a professional and academic requirement. We have a Presidency, a Vice-Presidency, an Executive Committee and a General Assembly, where decisions are taken in compliance with the objectives set.

The central office is in Madrid, as well as the World Secretariat. We have a website (https://www.bgi-law.com/es), an Annual World Congress as well as Continental Congresses.

We also have a BGI Law Magazine (https://www.bgimagazine.com/es/), adapted to the latest technologies, where we publish relevant news on cases, new and dismissed employees, we publicise our International Congresses, the events of each office, legislative changes of interest, changes of address of our firms, etc.  

We are also present in the following social networks:

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

We also have an Intranet (Basecamp) and, in addition to this, we have a monthly/ and half-monthly newsletter regarding COVID.

We also hold webinars for clients, partners, associates, juniors and staff, sharing experiences, ways of doing and thinking. For example, for this year, the following have been scheduled:

       - Negotiation Skills

       - Compliance and how to implement it to SMEs and why

       - Truck Cartel

       - Competition Law

       - Milk Cartel

       - Volkswagen Case

       - Tax Law and Double Taxation Treaties

       - Enforcement of foreign judgments in a third country

From the operational point of view and for the client, obviously, when a firm has the possibility of providing services, not only in its own city but also in its own country, it has the advantage that with the same operational form and the same firm, it can cover its legal, fiscal, tax, labour, administrative, town planning, ... service needs, whether in Madrid, Barcelona, Vigo or Marbella.

The same happens when a Spanish, British, Mexican or French client finds that their trusted firm has presence and office in the country where they need legal assistance, whether for a case originating in their personal/business environment or of someone close to them, or that they need information to invest or expand their business there. And, as always, under the same BGI umbrella and working philosophy, with similar working hours and systems and identical standards.

·      In these 25 years, looking back on what you have achieved today, what do you feel most proud of?

Yes, when you see what we have been able to achieve you really can't feel ashamed, or much less regret anything.

As the years go by, many businessmen may regret what they have created, either because of "dying of success", given the complexity that an organisation of this size can have, in terms of growth, ..., especially when you have been the President for 25 years and you are no longer 34 years old as when you set up the organisation, but this is not my case: the satisfaction of being the president of a firm, in which I have had partners since day 1 and all of them with 2 digits of seniority in our ranks, gives me the satisfaction of having been able to choose, to approach and surround myself with people better than myself, to know how to delegate and to create a team of professionals and friends of whom I feel enormously satisfied and proud of, and who, obviously, make the day-to-day, the coexistence and the professional practice very pleasant.

·      In all this time, I'm sure there are many anecdotes that you treasure, could you share any of them? Any that stand out or that you remember most fondly?

The anecdotes are unaccountable after 25 years where we have come to be present in 50 countries with around 75 different offices, ..., , as an example of what BGI means, for example, after lunch and dinner with a friend, General Manager and partner of a clothing production and retailing company, I had lunch and dinner with a friend of mine, with an international presence through hundreds of shops nationwide and many others internationally, and after failing to get him to transfer his business to our firm despite our trust, he had a problem in Paris, of a certain magnitude, and asked us for assistance. We turned out to be so efficient, professional and effective that he decided to work with us wherever we were present.

As an anecdote that I remember most fondly, it is one that occurred in the early days of the creation of BGI:

On the first trip, where I met with Elliot Black and Robin Graf (now out of the profession and retired 15 years ago, both BGI vice-presidents), while discussing and explaining the idea of BGI, the planned statutes and the proposal in his office in London, he gave me my regards for my father, whom he told me he was very fond of. Surprised at this statement, given that my father was an officer in the Navy and I was the only one in the family who had chosen a career in law, I realised, as he confessed to me, that he thought I was the son of the President of Balms Abogados, with whom he had handled cases, something totally impossible as I was the only lawyer in the family, and, in reality, the one he was sending his regards to was me, but he could not identify me because I looked like a young lawyer with the face of a child. This led to a friendship and a relationship that only ended with the retirement of both of us and, consequently, BGI having new partners in London (our current partners at Solomon Taylor & Solts, with the magnificent collaboration of our dear Mark Summerfield as Vice-President).

·      What is it that your colleagues from foreign law firms highlight about Spanish professionals? What service or skill do they highlight about our professionals?

Actually, there are not many differences to highlight in general about lawyers from one country or another.

Obviously, the level of demand, promptness and professionalism is something that is part of the hallmark of Balms Abogados and, of course, of BGI and that we take to heart perhaps because we have the obligation, and this is what the Balms Abogados España protocol says: any professional who starts their career in our firm, have to set an example, because we defend the brand in the front line, since we are the firm that gave its name to the international network. Given our national composition, among the professionals in the firm we speak more than 10 languages, and perhaps, together with the structure of an Anglo-Saxon firm in terms of departments, protocol, way of working, together with our flexibility as Spaniards, is perhaps what most surprises our partners and colleagues from other countries.

·      What activities have you planned to celebrate these 25 years?

Obviously, the activities planned for these 25 years have been minimised due to the pandemic and will have to be postponed due to the requirements of the health authorities.

Our World Congress in Athens 2022, where we will celebrate our 25th anniversary (although next year will already be our 26th) will take place in the second week of May 2022. Thus, we had planned to organise several Congresses (European, American and African), with special emphasis on several events that will also not be possible and that we will do throughout 2022:

  • One of them will be an Arbitration Conference (in Sao Paulo).
  •  A Conference in Mexico and Miami on Immigration Law, Golden Visa and Mexico-USA-Spain relations.
  • European Congress on Real Estate Law and Tax Law, harmonisation and discrepancies.
  • 25th birthday celebration at national level, Balms Abogados having been admitted to the Legal 500, in the following areas:
    • Employment
    • Real Estate
    • Dispute Resolution
    • Tax
    • Corporate and Commercial
  • We were also planning (and may also move to 2022) a round of 3 golf tournaments, sponsored by our clients, BGI and Balms Abogados, for the benefit of our Balms Children's Foundation.

·      Imagine 25 years from now, how do you see BGI? What would you like this organisation to be like?

I have been president and founder of BGI for 25 years. I am now 59 years old (although I still think I am 30), so in 25 years' time, if the numbers don't fail me, I should be 84, so I would imagine that I will still be honorary president of Balms Abogados and BGI, in some way, because, God willing, I plan to be alive and active.

Of course, I do hope that in 25 years BGI will be present in more than 75 countries and that we will continue to lead, or at least try to lead, the international networks of our size (medium-sized firms, dedicated to SMEs and individual investors, families and entrepreneurs).

Although BGI aims to grow in number of offices, in number of partners, to have as much presence in as many jurisdictions as possible, for BGI and for our clients, we do not have a disproportionate ambition with respect to the growth of each firm but a moderate one, to provide the corresponding service to meet the needs of our clients.

Furthermore, BGI is a family in which there is only one firm per country (it is the only way we understand being a partner) and of course, I would like our imprint and our philosophy, both internally and externally, to continue to be a family. 

·      Finally, I invite you to congratulate all the members of all the teams that are part of BGI.

To sum up and to congratulate our partners, employees, juniors, associates, paralegals, interns and staff, as well as the clients who place their trust in us, I would like to express my enormous satisfaction and pride in the team we have formed, in this spirit of union and solidarity with our profession, which is to serve our clients in and through the law, and I hope that, between us all, we can celebrate at least another 25 years together and continue to enjoy the wonderful way of living, working in our field, doing justice, defending our clients and making the world a better place.

 

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