Interview with Jaime Carey, Managing Partner of Carey, and Vice President of the IBA
With David Adams, Managing Editor, Top Ranked Legal
Jaime, I know Carey is a very old family firm. Could you give us a potted history of the firm and your place within it, please?
The firm traces its roots back to my grandfather, who started in Antofagasta in the north of Chile, in 1905. Leadership continued with my father who, with other lawyers opened the office in Santiago. From there the firm started to grow steadily until the late 70s/early 80s, when we began institutionalising the firm and applying the model of a New York or a London firm. Today we are probably the most institutionalised firm in the country and the largest. We have 43 partners and almost 270 lawyers and are very far from our family firm roots. All partners are equity partners, we don’t have salary partners or non-equity partners and so Carey is a very democratic firm – one partner, one vote.
What sets Carey apart from other Chilean firms?
Today we are the largest firm in Chile. Practically double the size of the next largest. Having institutionalised many years ago and having implemented a more international firm approach also sets us apart. Our growth is organic too. Our partners are almost all home grown. Over the years we have had almost no lateral partner hires from other firms.
This means our culture is very strong and is the secret to our success. A culture like ours is something you cannot develop overnight or even buy in. It must grow over the years. This esprit de corps keeps us together. Everyone grows the pie together so that the pie is bigger for all. There has always been very much a collaborative approach to work. We all try to sell each other as partners and get the partner who’s best suited to a specific project to be involved and so there’s very little internal competition.
And your personal practice, what does that involve?
I am very much involved in corporate law and tax law. I now co-head the tax department, focusing very much on high-net-worth individuals and families, helping to organise their structures and assets from a governance and tax perspective.
You were elected managing partner around 20 years ago, what is brand Jaime? What does your stamp on the firm look like?
I have always focused very much on people and on trying to keep a collaborative atmosphere within the firm and as I mentioned before, I have tried to instil a collaborative culture rather than a competitive one. It is better if we all pull in the same direction.
I have also put in place systems, protocols and technologies aimed at helping members of the firm. Support structures for personal issues for example. And systems that help rather than punish for things people do not like to do. You know, keeping track of time records or billing and things like that. So, I have been proactive and have found that helping people is much more efficient than not. The carrot and stick analogy.
Sometimes people leave and we try to help them move on in a constructive way if and when the time comes. We help people get good positions in companies as in-house counsel or general counsel within the large companies in Santiago. A lot of the general counsels here are ex Carey. We’ve had a few alumni reunions and it’s incredible to see the number of people that come and the friendly and good-natured atmosphere that is generated in those reunions. I find it very rewarding personally and I think that concentrating on the human side of things has paid dividends over the years.
Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion are becoming more and more important in law firm culture now, how do these ideals affect Carey?
We’ve probably been the most diverse firm in Santiago for some time and we’ve been pushing very much towards increasing our diversity with, you know, the normal restrictions that we have because of the cultures in Latin America. I think we have moved forward in this respect and there’s a lot of respect for all people here.
What’s driving that? Is it clients telling you they want the makeup of their counsel to be more diverse or is it you just wanting that for your firm and doing the right thing?
I think it’s been basically what we have wanted for the firm. We have focused very much on merit. Basically, our firm is merit driven, which is a very important element to generate diversity because rewarding merit brings the best of all types of people and genders into the firm. Diversity is the happy biproduct of promoting merit.
Programmes such as our mentoring programmes to help women in particular and trying to be more flexible for parents, make things easier and fairer. We created a parental leave programme so that men are actively encouraged to take it and not feeling guilty while doing so.
The fact that remote work was sort of validated during COVID has helped us to implement more flexibility within our working practices while not impacting on firm culture.
Are you all back in the office now or have you got some sort of hybrid arrangement?
We have a hybrid thing going. The guidelines are three days in and two days remotely, but we are seeing more and more people coming back to the office just because they want to be there. I’m seeing that in the US today, firms are going to four and one and having Fridays as the remote day.
For us it boils down to having flexibility without having a feeling of guilt. I think before a lot of the young associates felt that they had to stay in the office and could not leave early because they felt they would be looked upon negatively maybe because they saw partners work long hours. But today people understand that that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s okay to go home and have dinner with the family or avoid the traffic or take the meetings outside of the office. As long as the work gets done, we can embrace flexibility. To be fair, we have always been flexible and allowed this sort of thing. I think the difference is now there is no sense of guilt.
Do you see any differences on a generational basis with your younger partners and associates? Are they wanting to work in a different way to the old guard?
I think many of the younger generation don’t really like the type of life we had at those stages in our careers, and they want a much better work/life balance. It’s understandable. There are so many more opportunities out there these days. It’s much easier to start and develop a business for example. So, some of the younger lawyers today will prefer to do something else and it’s not so much that they don’t like the work system, but that they are more attracted to different types of jobs or work. I think partly due to the fact that there are many, many more options today that didn’t exist when we started.
How is the political situation in Chile right now? Is it a business-friendly environment?
You know, I believe we are getting back into shape, and it has become evident that people do not want extremes.. Given the last election results, the government will be forced to move towards the centre and thus has generated an atmosphere of a peace of mind that the country will not derail, but growth and prosperity has been affected negatively. Thank God we have strong institutions and let us hope we will soon start an upward trend both politically and economically. We still are perceived as the most stable country in the neighborhood.
What do you see as the growth areas in Chile in terms of practice areas?
Firstly energy and natural resources are growing and will continue to grow. Over the last few years, green hydrogen and lithium are the new kids on the block. Environmental issues are an important area that looks set to grow in tandem with the energy and natural resources sector.
Traditional M&A and strategic planning services are still big concerns as well as the new digital parts of the economy and the associated artificial intelligence, technology and data protection issues all look set for important growth. We also have legislative changes in the country from labour reforms to tax changes too. While it is difficult to predict how long these recent changes will create increased workflow, there is certainly an uptick now.
You mentioned technology and AI, is that big business in Chile at the moment? Is it affecting how you run your law firm?
Well we already have heavy automation in place. The generative AI is interesting and something for the future. We have our eye on it and will adapt to new challenges as we always have done. I think it will cause big changes on how law firms work. I don’t have the full picture right now, but we will certainly make a friend of it rather than treat it as the enemy.
I see that this year you were elected Vice President of the IBA?
That’s correct. I’m coming towards the end of a long career – 39 years at the IBA. So, becoming vice president and eventually president, is a good way to end your career as a lawyer.
And will we see any change in the IBA from your influence?
I think we’re going to be moving towards a more digital world. And we’ll have to adapt but we will still see human relationships as the most important thing and the human elements of law and business have always had my attention. We’ve been forced to live and work virtually because of the pandemic but it’s so important to meet and communicate and socialise with friends and colleagues in person and the IBA is fantastic for that.
At the IBA conferences we are going to add more technology. For example, we will increase the use of simultaneous translations in different conferences and go to more remote areas where the language barrier might be complicated. This would help encourage interactions with more academics, judges, and other professionals.
I know you are from a legal family and perhaps your path was chosen for you, but if you weren’t going to be a lawyer, what would you have become?
Probably I would have started my own business. I did study business, you know, which has helped me a lot in the managing of the firm. A legal background is useful in business too. So, the options are quite broad when you can combine a legal and a business education. You have a lot of flexibility that perhaps you don’t have with more vocational education like medicine perhaps.
What are the best things about living and working in Santiago?
From my perspective, Santiago is a wonderful city for family life and professional development. In general, the level of professionals is very good, with opportunities for entrepreneurship and the business atmosphere is also very good. We have top class internet and data connectivity and high-quality communications. The level of legal professionals is very high and of a completely equal standard to the US or Europe. I am very proud of the level of the attorneys in our firm.
What are the professional highlights/achievements that you are most proud of?
I am very proud to have been able to help make our firm the largest and the best ranked firm in Chile, with a strong culture of collaboration, a solid institutionalised governance and a having an important recognition internationally, especially in Latin America. I am also very proud of having reached the position of vice president of the IBA. My participation in the IBA as well as in other international institutions, has given me the opportunity to meet many, many colleagues and developed an important network of professionals, but most importantly, a large number of good friends worldwide.
What you like to do when you’re not working? Do you have any spare time being managing partner of Chile’s largest firm and Vice President of the IBA?
I do not have much spare time, but I am a family man. I have eight children and so far, twelve grandchildren, so that keeps me busy. I will probably have more grandchildren as time goes forward. I also love to travel a lot both for work and on family trips.