Nilhan Buyurgan is the Chief Legal Officer at Kibar Holding, which has subsidiaries in the metal, automotive, food and packing, construction materials, real estate, logistics, and energy industries.
It was founded in 1984 and is based in Istanbul, with offices in Bursa, Turkey, and Kyiv, in Ukraine.
Can you describe your career path leading up to your current role at Kibar Holding?
N.B.: I started my career as an in-house legal intern at Liberty Sigorta. After a couple of months of working in-house, I decided I needed to expand my experience and knowledge so I moved on to private practice. I held Associate and Senior Associate positions at two leading law firms. I was then offered the opportunity to work as an In-House Legal Counsel for Sabanci Holding. After three years of working for Sabanci Holding, I had two children and consequently took a voluntary career break for a year and a half. After this break, I took up an offer to work as a Partner and Head of the Corporate/M&A Department at a law firm I had previously worked for. My transition was atypical in that I moved to private practice from in-house. As it turned out, it was a difficult and drastic transition.
I soon decided I needed to work in a corporate and structured environment. It was then that I was offered the opportunity to work as the Chief Legal Officer for Kibar Holding, which I gladly accepted. I had represented Kibar Holding as an outside counsel for many years and was very familiar with the Group and the management team. The Group was undergoing a corporate restructuring at the time, which made the offer even more intriguing and appealing for me. It has now been one year and two months since I started working for Kibar Holding and it has been the most fulfilling experience in my career thus far.
You’ve alternated in your career between in-house and private practice roles. Why is that?
N.B.: During the first few years of my career, I wanted to gain as much experience as I could in a wide variety of legal fields. Private practice seemed to be the best way of improving my experience and expanding my horizons. During the time I worked as a private practitioner, Turkey was one of the most popular emerging markets – the economy was booming and foreign investment was flowing in. It was a perfect time to be in private practice. I had the chance to represent some of the largest multinationals in major M&A deals, in countless industries. At this point, I must emphasize that I have never had a problem with demanding working hours or maintaining a work/life balance. Contrary to common belief, in-house practice is just as consuming as private practice, if not more so. The main reason I chose working in-house over private practice was structure. In my experience, I have found that even the largest and most established law firms are unstructured or moderately structured when compared to corporations. Apart from my inclination to work in a structured and corporate environment, another reason I prefer to work in-house is that it gives me the opportunity to work closer to the business. As an in-house counsel, you get to understand markets and industries in much more fundamental ways than private practitioners.
Do you miss any elements of private practice?
N.B.: Being in private practice gives you the chance to interact with many different clients and counter-parties, from tiny start-up companies to global corporations. Working in-house means less interaction with the outside world, so to speak. Private practice also allows you to gain experience in countless industries, whereas an in-house counsel’s work is inevitably limited to the business of the corporation s/he works for. These are the two main elements I miss, although in my opinion the pros of working in-house far outweigh the cons.
How large is your legal team at Kibar Holding, and how is it structured?
N.B.: I have a legal team of two lawyers and one legal intern. We will have a third lawyer join the team soon. The in-house team members deal with the day-to-day legal work. We manage the legal affairs of 25 companies within the Kibar Group. We work with outside counsel for matters requiring specific expertise, such as IP law and competition law. One of my team members specializes in corporate law, while the other specializes in dispute resolution. We are now in the process of hiring another litigator, who will mainly deal with employment disputes and enforcement proceedings. I am a firm believer in specialization and I personally specialize in corporate law, although my role as the Chief Legal Officer at such a large corporation requires that I make decisions in practically every legal field, from administrative law to criminal law.
When you hire lawyers for your team, do you prefer them to come from in-house or from a private practice background?
N.B.: I prefer to work with lawyers that have experience both as an in-house lawyer and as a private practitioner. Generally speaking, junior and mid-level lawyers with a private practice background often have better time management skills and can tackle demanding projects with more ease. Lawyers who have in-house experience, on the other hand, generally have a better understanding of business and do not get sidetracked by day-to-day tasks.
Many believe the Turkish market is overcrowded, leading to especially fierce competition for fees. As the CLO of a company that presumably benefits from that phenomenon, I wonder what your thoughts are on the fees, level of competition, and differing capabilities in the market at the moment.
N.B.: There is indeed fierce competition in the Turkish legal market. Many large law firms have undergone spin-offs, there are many new boutique law firms and pretty much all the major international law firms have opened branches in Turkey. I find that boutique law firms are generally more client-oriented than large law firms; whereas large law firms are able to offer you valuable experience in a vast array of industries. When it comes to outsourcing legal work, the driving force is often experience and credentials, rather than legal fees. As such, although the competition in the Turkish legal market has led to more flexible rates, I cannot say that we really benefit from this phenomenon.
When you outsource legal work, what are the main criteria you use in picking the firms you will be working with?
N.B.: I select firms on a project-specific basis. As a strong believer in specialization, I prefer to work with lawyers that have expertise and experience in specific legal fields, rather than full-service law firms. That being said, I am not at all against working with full-service law firms, as long as they do not have a one-size-fits-all approach. Generally speaking, I prefer to work with proactive and aggressive firms who do not have a problem meeting deadlines.
From a legislative stand-point, what are the recent or upcoming changes that will impact or have impacted your work the most?
N.B.: The new Commercial Code was definitely the most prominent legislative change of the decade. It has impacted (and continues to impact) our work significantly. The new Commercial Code will inevitably overturn some of the long-standing precedents of the Turkish Supreme Court – therefore the impact is likely to be far more substantial than it currently seems. I do not anticipate any new legislative changes in the near future that will have as big an impact on Turkish corporations as the new Commercial Code.
On the lighter side, what’s your favorite place in Istanbul, and why?
N.B.: The Bosphorus. Without a doubt. There is something magical about it and I enjoy being anywhere as long as I have a view of the Bosphorus. Not surprisingly, Ulus 29, Zuma, and Sunset [popular Istanbul restaurants along the Bosphorus] are among my favorite places.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.1. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.
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