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“It gives us really great pleasure to know that we can contribute to the creation of such value” – an interview with dr. András Szecskay


“It gives us really great pleasure to know that we can contribute to the creation of such value” – an interview with dr. András Szecskay

This is part of the series of interviews made with the members of the Board of Trustees. This time around, Júlia Váradi is talking to dr. András Szecskay, the Managing Partner of the Szecskay Law Office; he is well known and respected for his excellent style, vast knowledge and the manner in which he manages his cases, all of which make him one of the best lawyers.

When his colleagues and clients are asked about him, almost every one of them mentions his flexibility, creativity and, first and foremost, his open-mindedness. There is no obstacle he cannot overcome, just like Iván Fischer, the Art Director of Budapest Festival Orchestra, which dr. András Szecskay so avidly supports. Is this perhaps the secret to your excellent relationship?

András Szecskay: You need to be careful with praise. In the past, there was actually a term in competition law, ‘fraudulent praise’, which entailed a fine, so be careful with praise! But I’m only joking. The ones you’ve listed are rather my desired goals, and even our common goals in the office, that this how we like to operate. As for the comparison with Iván Fischer, it disturbs me, because I don’t think I should be mentioned on the same page as a real world star. And, since we pursue completely different professions, our work can’t be compared. He never runs out of his truly wonderful ideas. I envy him for many of them.

This is proof that you like innovation and creativity.

A. Sz.: This I can accept. I always try and make sure that our partner structure doesn’t become entrenched and so I continuously bring new blood as much as possible into our office in the form of the best young lawyers, from whom I’m always trying to learn what’s new. I hope to be open-minded enough, so I’m expressly happy when someone comes up with new ideas. I somehow always know when someone is contradicting me with the intention to improve things, and when they’re just doing it to say the opposite. In our office, it shouldn’t happen that someone doesn’t put forward their opinions and thoughts, because they’re younger or older than the boss. So people rarely take offence, and our rules aren’t set in stone.

And this is the key to the almost unbelievable success story you presented in Autumn 2022 at the ceremony held in honor of the law office’s 30th birthday.

How did the story of the Szecskay Law Office, and that of András Szecskay himself, start? Was it ordained that you’d follow in the footsteps of your father, who was a famous lawyer in Kecskemét?

A. Sz.: It wasn’t actually so self-explanatory. Our parents didn’t really talk about which profession to choose. I have a step-brother I grew up with. He lost his father, and I lost my mother when we were both very young. He was four, I was two. His mother became my stepmother, who I loved dearly.

What was your childhood like?

A. Sz.: I grew up in Kecskemét, where I attended Russian bilingual elementary and secondary schools. I had excellent teachers, like Endre Szekér, who later became the deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine ‘Forrás’. He was a wonderful teacher of Hungarian literature. We regularly went to the theater in Budapest, mainly to see works by contemporary authors. He even invited famous Hungarian writers, like László Németh, János Pilinszky and Sándor Weöres, to his Hungarian classes and self-study literature groups. I also have fond memories of my history teacher, Tibor Iványosi-Szabó. All in all, those were excellent times, not to mention the many opportunities to play sport and to compete. I was particularly happy to be part of the rock band at my grammar school. Later, when I was doing my compulsory military service, the band was a really good excuse to get out of the base. I guess we must have looked weird: a rock band in a bar in Hódmezővásárhely, the members of which were all in military uniforms. Then when I was 18, I moved out of Kecskemét.

Was it actually straightforward for you that you wanted to take up the legal profession? Or were still hesitating back then?

A. Sz.: It was more or less straightforward, and this is why I applied to the university in Szeged, and I was accepted to the Faculty of Law at the University of Szeged. I am still amazed that I was actually accepted, since my entrance exam results were really poor. I had to take an exam in literature and history, and I didn’t know the correct answer to any of the questions but I somehow talked my way out. I answered with history to questions on literature, while I used literature to respond to history questions. Perhaps this was what helped me get in. Finally, I became a student with so-called ‘preliminary acceptance’, which meant that I had to go and serve as a soldier for one year with other boys who also were accepted to other universities. This one year gave me a lot, especially in terms of people, because this is where I met some wonderful and later very successful people. I’m still in contact with my friends from military service.

What was the Szeged faculty of law like? Did you like it?

A. Sz.: We were lucky to have some excellent teachers, some of whom I still remember well nowadays. The company at the university was really good; among my fellow students are some I still meet. For example, János Martonyi made a big impression on me because, as soon as he finished university, he managed to find jobs, like his first one at MASPED, which allowed him to travel a lot. Of course, to land these job, he needed to know and speak foreign languages, and he didn’t speak one or two; he was fluent in English, German and French. I really liked this; it’s what I wanted for myself. Once I finished my final exams, I went home and thought about becoming a corporate lawyer but my father didn't like the idea at all. He more or less accepted my choice not to accept the position he offered me in his well-established practice in Kecskemét, but he insisted that, even if I moved to Pest, where I wanted to go from Szeged, I wasn’t to be a corporate lawyer, but work as an independent lawyer instead. I guess he hoped I would eventually end up in his law office. However, I made my own way in Pest, and soon I had my own circle of friends and clients, and I was registered as a lawyer in Budapest in 1975. I’m sure it helped a lot that he was my father, as his peers respected him as a good lawyer, and he was a member of the National Council of Lawyers for many years.

Can you pinpoint what you learned from your father? To what extent did you follow or internalize his mentality and his way of thinking?

A. Sz.: Perhaps the most important idea that I could learn from him, was his dedication. That clients always come first. Any family or other problem is topped by a client’s gripes. Whether it’s the weekend or the middle of a celebration. He was also extremely precise and meticulous. As a student, I worked with him over two summers; this is when I learnt how strictly he expected his files to be kept in order. His colleagues kept his trial speeches in high regard, in particular those held in cases concerning traffic, on which he was an expert.

How did you start your career as a lawyer?

A. Sz.: I was very lucky to be accepted by Legal Partnership No. 16, which was a law office that dealt with international cases. This was around 1973-75, when we still needed a permit from the foreign currency authority if we wanted to handle international cases and, of course, trips abroad weren’t as easy as they are today. There were only two or three law offices that were allowed to deal with industrial property cases, which by nature involve international issues. This is where I stated to work as a lawyer, and I stayed for a long time. The location of our offices was actually very convenient. Our seat was in Dalszínház utca, so when I opened my window I saw the Opera House. This is when I got to like the opera ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg’, because I listened to its rehearsals for hours during those beautiful spring afternoons.

As far as I know, the change in the political regime brought a change in your career as well.

A. Sz.: Yes, at the time I was still considered a young lawyer, and the Canadian Bar Association had a program back then, within the framework of which they invited thirty Hungarian lawyers to get to know the main concepts of the Canadian justice system and legal protection. They selected an excellent team, and we learnt a lot. Moreover, this program afforded me the opportunity to meet some of my colleagues, with whom I still work at the Szecskay Law Office. When I came back from Canada, I soon realized that I couldn’t use my newly acquired knowledge at the law office where I worked at the time. So I decided to open my own law office, where I wanted to build a team that wasn’t just composed of older lawyers, but also had many young talents who brought new ideas and style to the common workplace.

So was this beautiful building in Kossuth square the very place where the Szecskay Law Office was set up back then, in 1992, and from where this law office started out on its successful journey?

A. Sz.: Yes, it is. It all happened exactly 30 years ago, right here. The Zwack Unicum cases were among my first. At that time, the company ran under a different name, though our new practice was launched with its predecessor. We were appointed to handle the most exciting case of the time, which was the privatization of the state-owned enterprise. The process had some very exciting and intriguing phases, which taught us a lot. I first came into the picture as legal counsel for the state-owned company, but, as soon as it was announced by the State Property Agency that the consortium led by Péter Zwack had won the tender, Mr. Zwack called me and asked me if I would represent them. And I immediately said yes. It was a really great honor to have been asked, and by that time there were no conflicts of interests that could prevent our appointment as the legal representative of the company. And this is how Zwack Unicum became our client.

Zwack Unicum has been your client since then. This also proves what is considered by many as one of the typical features of the Szecskay Law Office, which is continuity that goes hand in hand with the need to find ever-newer and more creative solutions. How can these two apparently conflicting ambitions coexist in one office?

A. Sz.: I don’t see any conflict. In fact, I think that it is precisely the continuity in our case that is built on the fact that our colleagues are open to new solutions and ideas; they like challenges, and this is why they stay with us. There they have the opportunity to do this over and over again.

What is the key area in which the law office specializes?

A. Sz.: We basically focus on economic law, which means that we deal with all legal areas in which companies contributing to the economy may be involved, meaning corporate law, labor law, financial law, competition law, tax law, data protection law, legal disputes, and so on. What’s more, we’re also active in banking and financing, so we have experts handling a wide range of topics. In practice, this means that all of the almost forty lawyers working in our law office need to be experts in more than one area, so no client is left without an answer, no matter what area their questions concern. As far as international acknowledgement is concerned, we are one of the best in litigation and arbitration cases, competition law, corporate law and acquisition cases.

The Szecskay Law Office is also known for being involved in resolving legal issues that may arise in different areas of art and culture. Could you name some such areas?

A. Sz.: Intellectual property has two large branches where legal services may be needed. One of them is copyright law and the other is industrial property law. Here at the office, we have highly qualified specialists in these two areas. And yes, art is personally particularly important to me. My interest in art and culture is definitely something that I got from my father, who himself was an amateur photographer, and he was the leader of the Kecskemét Photographers’ Circle. He passed his infatuation with photography onto me and, to this day, it’s one of my hobbies. It was also my father who introduced me to contemporary artists in Kecskemét. For example, I was present when the fund of the famous self-taught artist, János Bozsó, was set up. János Bozsó had a talent for finding valuable works of art in the countryside, and created a huge folk art, church art and applied art collection, which was transferred to a fund established jointly with the town of Kecskemét, and included several of his own paintings, too. Today, I’m still very much involved in the life of the collection as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Fund. Apart from visual arts and photography, my father was an avid lover of music; he had a huge collection of classical and jazz music records.

What was your relationship with music?

A. Sz.: Memories from my early childhood can help me answer this question. I attended a kindergarten with a specialized curriculum focusing on music. We had a teacher there, Aunty Bébi, who was an excellent pianist - so much so that she actually earned a little extra by playing every night in one of the small bars in Kecskemét, called ‘Kedves Presszó’. So, after this music-focused kindergarten I went to an elementary school that also specialized in music but, to be honest, I really didn’t like it.


A. Sz.: I guess it was too early for me to learn about Kodály, Bartók and Prokofiev, and I hated learning about notes. And this was when ‘Kedves Presszó’ returned to my life, because our math teacher in grammar school, Ede Lipták, played there as a pianist every night after 9 p.m., when students were forbidden to go out on the streets. When I learnt about this, I plucked up courage and asked him if he could give me jazz lessons. Much to my surprise, he said yes on one condition: if I didn’t tell anyone, and nobody saw me come and go in the night. He proved to be an excellent teacher who knew the contemporary jazz music quite well, and taught me something that only a few musicians knew.

How did your relationship with the Festival Orchestra start?

A. Sz.: I went to several Festival Orchestra concerts, even back in the 1990s, because I knew they were very good. Once, sometime at the beginning of the 2000s, my colleague, János Sziklai mentioned that sadly one of our common friends and colleagues, Domonkos Asbóth, a lawyer and a member the Board of Trustees of the Festival Orchestra, had unexpectedly died. He said they were looking for a new member to replace him, who could also help them in legal matters as well. After some rounds of serious talks with the current members of the Board of Trustees, I became a member, and our law office became the BFO’s legal counsel. There were some very impressive names on the list of artists playing in the Festival Orchestra, so the task seemed and still is particularly exciting.

However, you’re not only involved in the work of the BFO as a lawyer, but also as one of the most important patrons of the orchestra. What motivated you to support and sponsor the Festival Orchestra?

A. Sz.: By nature, art and culture can’t exist without patrons. Ever since there was art, there has always been a need for sponsors and patrons. In past centuries, the royal houses of the time took it upon themselves to support creative artists, and thereby to ensure that art remained alive. Today, as there are no royal houses, if the state assumes no responsibility for art, it falls on the people themselves to maintain it somehow, as most artists are unable to support themselves purely from art, and it’s OK like this. But I also think that it is a good thing because, for those who can afford to support art, it gives the pleasure of knowing that they can contribute to one or two successful artistic achievements. Of course, you must always have to consider how far you can go, and we can only do so much, but still it gives us really great pleasure that we can, at least to some extent, contribute to the creation of such value, or even to its maintenance.

Do you expect anything in exchange when you support the BFO?

A. Sz.: Absolutely nothing whatsoever. This is not the place where one expects something in exchange for a good deed. It’s exactly the high quality performance that I get back when I support the BFO. And the pleasure is just growing when you know that others will also enjoy the experience.

You have a wonderful contemporary collection. Here, in your office, the wall is covered with some of the fantastic works of the Hungarian art world. Is this part of being a patron or is this simply a sign that you like good works of art?

A. Sz.: I do like and enjoy contemporary art, and it is great to see and get to know the artists, and sometimes even experience the creative process. There are occasions when I have the chance to spend a few hours in the studio of the artists I like, to get to know them better, and to understand what they do and why they do it. Just to give you an example, many years ago there was an exhibition of the works by István Harasztÿ alias Édeske, who recently passed away, and about whom I hadn’t known much before that exhibition, where I saw a strange mobile object. I immediately fell in love with it, and bought it. You will find it in the hallway of our office, and I am extremely happy that it is mine. I am even happier that I had the chance to meet ‘Édeske’ in person. We visited him several times, and I managed to buy many of his beautiful works, while becoming his lifelong friend. He was the one who introduced me to many of his fellow artists, from whom I’ve also bought many other brilliant works. But this is just an example, and I could tell you several similar stories.

Turning back to the BFO: what do you, a key member of the Board of Trustees think of the present and the future of the orchestra?

A. Sz.: The Festival Orchestra is in a particular situation, because although they perform at the highest quality and business is currently thriving, you mustn’t forget that the survival of the orchestra depends largely on the subsidy provided by the State and the Municipality of Budapest. However, it is common knowledge that the State is in big trouble, just like the Municipality, not to mention the unfortunate current state of affairs between the State and the capital city. As a consequence, the two legs on which the orchestra has so far relied may become weak, and the fear is that they can’t hold up too long. Meanwhile, private sponsorship is very unreliable, especially in these days, when the economy is in such a difficult situation. The orchestra would need support from large multinational companies but, for the moment, all we have is hope. Even so, there‘s no doubt whatsoever that the Budapest Festival Orchestra must survive, because it’s one of the best of its kind in the whole world!