Interview with Polakis Sarris – Founder, Managing Partner of Polakis Sarris & Co LL
What do you think of the younger generation of lawyers?
I think young lawyers have more opportunities than we had because of the development of world economy, the diversification of many industries, the paramount dominance of the English language (we take it as a given now, but I had Italian clients in the 80s; I still don’t know what they were trying to say to me and I’m sure it was mutual) and, of course, because they have ridiculously better qualifications and skills than we ever had or even dreamt of having. On the other hand, there are so many lawyers now I wouldn’t be surprised if I were told that the odds are totally against them. Be that as it may, I think they should be given them room to grow. Let them fail and let them learn. Nobody thrives when someone’s breathing down their neck.
You started out 50 years ago in quite different circumstances. What do you remember of those days?
I started working in 1970s after I came back from Athens’ law School. The times back then were hard because there were 5-6 big, traditional law firms which had a 90% portion of the lucrative part of the practice [international companies, semi-governmental organizations, commercial banks and co-ops etc] and of course they were not ecstatic that new lawyers were trying to take a piece of the pie. Just when I managed to sustain a small practice and started to earn a decent living, Turkey invaded. It was a horrible time and for the next 3-4 years nothing was moving. This changed in the 80s and the 90s when I found myself was deeply absorbed having established a network of clients and colleagues around the world but mainly in core European countries such as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, UK and Germany. I continued to travel excessively and the work gave me joy, knowledge and fun. Those were successful, formative and interesting years. Exhausting and rewarding, like every good job should be.
Has the legal sector changed a great deal since you started working as a lawyer? In what ways?
Everything changed of course. Ι’ll give you an example everyone can understand. When I started out, we used telephones through CYTA operators and the post; that’s all we had. After a few years, a great invention changed the way we communicated with clients, the way we worked, everything. It was the Telex, the ancestor of the fax machine. Like every new machine, it was really expensive immediately upon release but I took a loan out and went and got one – I think I was one of the first to get one and I still remember our number: 2137 GIGI CY. I had never seen such a marvel, it was huge and imposing, like a typewriter from outer space. The secretaries were in awe, the lawyers were puzzled, the clients were impressed. I was delighted. I remember feeling sophisticated and modern and forward-thinking. The other day I showed some telex scripts I kept as memorabilia to my eldest granddaughter (she’s 15) and tried to explain her how Telex worked. She looked at me as if I were a caveman.