We all have reason to celebrate
As they were sitting in Café Black in May 1971, Jean-Claude Wenger and Lelio Vieli decided to pursue a common purpose. Today 125 people work at our Zürich and Zug locations – and that’s certainly not all that has changed.
Urs Gut and Konrad Fischer become partners; the name of the firm is Wenger Vieli Gut & Fischer.
Wenger & Vieli establish a branch in Zug.
The firm is converted into a joint-stock company (Wenger & Vieli AG).
Jean-Claude Wenger and Lelio Vieli establish the law firm of Wenger & Vieli.
Wenger & Vieli move into their first offices at Dufourstrasse 56.
Belser Altorfer & Partner merge with Wenger Vieli Belser (and Partner).
Fiftieth anniversary and rebranding. Wenger Vieli employs 125 people and belongs to 22 partners.
Founder of the firm Jean-Claude Wenger on his difficult years as a student, the secret of a successful partnership, and the fascination of major trials.
A conversation with Daniel Girsberger and Lorenz Droese on their relationship with the firm, the current generation of students, and the value of academia.
Bignia Vieli on the family-unfriendly structures of traditional corporate law firms, her dual role as mother of three and lawyer – and her father.
Initiator Christian Wenger and future helmsman Michael Baier reveal the success of Wenger Vieli’s start-up desk.
From lawyer to law office: Wenger Vieli exemplifies the development of an entire profession – but it always went its own way.
The legal profession has changed considerably over the past 50 years, and it will change radically in the coming years as well. Some factors in the firm’s success continue to apply, such as independence, integrity, the acuity of its legal analysis, dedication, and empathy. However, there are now new factors for success, particularly where the organisation of a law firm is concerned. Those changes in the legal profession have led to developments at our firm. The sections below describe how changes in the legal profession have affected our firm and what challenges we anticipate in the future.
It used to be that lawyers – as people and personalities – took centre stage in legal work. The number of corporate lawyers in Zürich was manageable, and they knew each other. During and after the second world war, there was great demand for legal services from other countries, particularly the United States. That was one reason for the development of corporate law firms in Zürich. Lawyers began to band together, but they worked independently and for their own account, sharing only the costs of infrastructure. Letters and briefs were produced using a typewriter (and carbon paper) and sent by mail; telex and fax came along later. There was no electronic communication other than land-line telephones.
When the firm of Wenger & Vieli was founded in May 1971, it acquired offices on Seegartenstrasse in the Seefeld district of Zürich. Urs Gut and Konrad Fischer later became partners in the firm, which then did business as Wenger Vieli Gut & Fischer. New office space on the third and fourth floors of Dufourstrasse 56 (close to the previous location) was added in 1996.
Lawyers used to be true jacks of all trades, with a knowledge of corporate law, contract law, taxes, banking law, inheritance law, and more. As fields of law and specialities became more complex, the system of independently practising lawyers (including in law offices) reached its limits. The need for more cooperation and teamwork, as well as specialisation by individual lawyers, became apparent. This meant law firms had to grow and reorganise. Wenger & Vieli (focusing on corporate law, M&A, banking law, and litigation) merged with Belser Altorfer & Partner (focusing on the financial services sector, private clients, and litigation for banks) on 1 January 2001, becoming Wenger Vieli Belser.
Major organisational changes were made at the time of the merger into Wenger Vieli Belser: two cost-sharing partnerships became one firm with a single accounting system. An accountant and office manager were also hired at this time. Due to space limitations, it wasn’t possible to share a single office, so the firm did business at the two locations on Mühlebachstrasse and Dufourstrasse, connected by a directional antenna.
An adventurous manoeuvre soon made it possible to take over the second floor – and then the first floor – of Dufourstrasse 56, and Wenger & Vieli now occupied the entire building. Major improvements, such as expansion of the library and the rooftop terrace, and the later creation of a special area for clients by breaking through to the neighbouring property at Färberstrasse 6, helped adapt the firm’s infrastructure to increasing needs. Following a transitional period, the name of the firm was shortened to Wenger & Vieli.
Another milestone in the development of the firm was the 2009 conversion of the partnership into a joint-stock company (Wenger & Vieli AG), having its registered offices in Zürich and a branch in Zug. The firm’s organisation and culture caused it to continue to develop into one in which individual lawyers were no longer in the forefront and the focus was on our common enterprise.
For many years, Wenger Vieli did not have its own tax department, instead working with outside tax specialists. But every economic activity has tax consequences, so this situation was increasingly felt to be unsatisfactory. That’s why we were happy when Stephan Hürlimann and other employees trained in tax law joined our firm. The tax department has continuously expanded since that time.
Increasing specialisation and more intense competition in the legal and tax advisory market meant that the expert knowledge of individual lawyers and teams was becoming increasingly important. Thanks to specialisation and more in-depth expertise in the specialised groups, Wenger Vieli was increasingly able to work on cross-border transactions with the largest law firms in the world.
Our IT system was no longer able to keep up with such rapid growth, so the firm’s entire IT infrastructure and data processing were outsourced to an external provider in 2016. Since that time, our employees can access the Wenger Vieli system from anywhere in the world simply using a laptop.
We took an important step toward a paperless office by introducing an electronic data management system in 2019. It was high time for this measure, which had the added benefit of allowing us to convert the entire firm to remote work within 24 hours when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
On 1 May 2021 – precisely 50 years after the founding of Wenger Vieli – the firm employs 125 people, including 69 lawyers and tax advisers, of whom 22 are partners and four are of counsel. The Zug office has 16 lawyers, including three partners, and the tax department has nine tax advisers, three of whom are partners. In addition to our indispensable assistants, the firm has a wonderful team headed by our office manager Jan Berger and our chief financial officer Nicole Haab, which sees to the service sectors of IT support, marketing, reception, accounting, and infrastructure. Since December 2019 the firm has also had its own place for people to eat, drink, and get together: the restored Café Black 1966 in our building at Färberstrasse 6. “The Black” has quickly become a popular gathering place.
Many organisational changes have occurred over the past 50 years in the profession of providing legal and tax advisory services and in our firm. We are convinced that the only law firms that can survive in the market are those that feature an outstanding organisation as well as excellent employees. The original lawyers working on their own have been replaced by multi-disciplinary law firms whose specialised teams base their work on modern infrastructure and are connected on a day-to-day basis with firms and clients all over the world.
A great deal has changed at Wenger Vieli over the past 50 years, but a lot has stayed the same, namely the close relationship among the partners and the respectful way all of the people working in the firm treat each other.
Is there a “unique selling point” for a law firm, or is it true that “a law firm is a law firm is a law firm”? We are convinced that the culture embodied at Wenger Vieli every day is what distinguishes us. This also includes the activities we offer, such as hiking weekends and our now-legendary Wenger Vieli Oktoberfest. Enjoying a beer at our Café Black after the workday has ended also makes an important contribution to maintaining a congenial atmosphere. Obviously, everyone who works at the firm is “admitted to the bar”.
If you want to try to get a glimpse of what’s ahead, it’s safe to say that increasing digitisation and automation (with the use of artificial intelligence) under the heading of “legal tech” will influence the profession and promote its further development. Initial attempts at automating the drafting of contracts and due diligence tasks point to where this path starts. Wenger Vieli has taken the first step along that path by offering clients and other interested members of the public standard contracts covering simple subjects in German and English under the heading of the Wenger Vieli Digital Lawyer. Checklists and guidelines, along with a program for automatically generating the documents required for the commercial register, are also available for downloading on the electronic platform.
The partners of Wenger Vieli conducted strategy workshops at several retreats held under professional leadership in 2018-19, specifying goals and guiding principles for coming years. This resulted in numerous ground-breaking projects, including questions about the working and career conditions that our firm can offer current and future generations of lawyers and tax advisers in order to remain successful.
Wenger Vieli is based on 50 years of history, has partners with close ties to one another, and has outstanding employees in all positions, as well as an efficient, effective organisation and excellent infrastructure. As a result, we look forward confidently and with great interest to developments in the years to come.