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Joseph C Tortorici cuts across every lawyer stereotype. He is not middle-aged, dull or blinkered. He was born and reared in New York City and was the first in his Italian-American family to graduate. He qualified as a New York attorney in 1984, and joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges in 1987. The 38-year-old expert on acquisitions, privatizations, telecommunications and capital markets in central and eastern Europe, he is a living embodiment of what globalization can do for a lawyer’s career. Tall, dark and trim, he lives up to reported descriptions ranging from “dynamic” to “immensely creative.” He is a fan of Robert De Niro. His rise to managing partner of the firm’s central and eastern European offices was not prefaced by some great plan or vision. A genuine interest in the law, being at ease with himself and others, and hard work have been career essentials. “I wish I could say that I was one of those people who had a burning desire to be a lawyer at age 12,” he says. “The truth is,” says Tortorici, “I took law at Columbia because it seemed a very flexible degree. I never thought I would be a lawyer. I thought about switching to business, but other graduates were doing law and I quite enjoyed it. I never regretted the decision. It was actually very easy.” He tells an eerie story of wanting to leave his then-employer in 1987 and join a firm with a more extensive corporate practice. This was during the ’80s stock boom. Two promising offers came in. One from Weils and the other from a capital markets firm. During his interview at Weils, Stephen J Dannhauser, its executive partner, gave him advice which has locked in his memory: “Whatever you see going on in Wall Street is a bit of an aberration. Weils is a well-balanced firm with a lot of strength in a lot of different areas. Even if this Wall Street phenomenon were to go away it will be fine.” On October 14 1987, he happily went on holiday, having left his employer and accepted the Weils offer. He started on Monday October 19 — otherwise known as Black Monday, when Wall Street crashed. Several New York law firms had been badly shaken, including the firm he rejected. Remembering a panicky career moment with a smile he says: “I basically called up Stephen before I started and said do I still have a job — he said, ‘Yeah it’s fine.’ “ He absorbed the firm’s culture with enthusiasm. “I am a product of the firm,” he says. THE PROJECT His arrival coincided with the firm’s ambition to go global. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. Everyone wanted a slice of the new east European market. It was not going to be easy, as reports of sluggish economies and a non-existent legal infrastructure were rampant. However, Weils was not put off. In 1990, it gained a foothold in eastern Europe by working for the U.S. Enterprise Fund, which helped eastern European governments establish a commercial infrastructure. Tortorici was chosen a year later to do a six-week stint in Budapest to cover for a partner who needed time off before moving there. This was followed by a four-month placement as legal adviser to the Czech Ministry of Privatization in Prague. Six weeks had become one year. He describes the city and its people as remarkable. “The Ministry got a senior associate on a pro-bono basis. I was working on privatization matters seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It was very interesting and unbelievable,” he says. He established the Prague office in 1992. “I started with a secretary, myself and a key to the door.” He helped spearhead Weils’ drive to recruit the best in home-grown Czech and Hungarian talent. The result was more than 20 Czech lawyers, two of whom are partners, plus similar growth in Budapest and the newest venture in Frankfurt. “We invested in these folks and are very proud of them,” he says. His drive and the talent of the team have led to an impressive client list, including the Czech Savings Bank, Citibank (Prague) DeTeMobil, Deutsche Telekom, and Bell Atlantic International, as well as the Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak Enterprise funds. “I wish I could say to you that I was this grand visionary because I know people like that,” he insists. “I saw the opportunity, and I knew it was going to be a remarkable challenge and a life-changing experience. But it just happened.” FRANKFURT He is now on his next adventure to establish Weils in Frankfurt, where he is now based. It’s full speed ahead. Says Tortorici, “We are in hiring mode, having taken on several partners, including Dr Liza Kroeger and Josef Tobien, the former head of the executive office at the German Takeover Commission.” He adds, “We are waiting for office space, building infrastructure and working on several transactions. In fact, we actually have a little too much work on at the moment.” On whether the well-established Frankfurt market will be an easier nut to crack he says, “Its hard to tell. I don’t know if it will be easier in the sense that when we got to Prague it was very early days, even though there were other firms that were ahead of us.” Says Tortorici, “Germany is a much more developed, less fluid, competitive market. You have a lot of very well-established names at national and international level here, which has increased merger activity and business in the area.” He adds, “Having said that, there are great opportunities for us as a firm. We are confident. This is a good time to be a lawyer.”

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