Based in the town of Mödling, located just south of Austria’s capital, Vienna, the firm of DDr. Fürst Rechtsanwalts-GmbH offers an unorthodox approach to the law that is all about communication.
There may well be no such thing as a typical lawyer, but, while he is most definitely a practitioner of the law, DDr. Gerald Fürst is far from typical. Despite coming from a long line of educators – his parents, siblings and wife all teachers – and a self-professed “bourgeois background”, DDr. Fürst decided to follow in the footsteps of his aunt, Dr. Hilda Domberger, who herself took over the reins at the law firm founded by her father, Dr. Adolf Eberl.
Rather than start working as a lawyer straight after law school, however, after completing his first doctorate in the law, DDr. Fürst switched to communications and subsequently attained a second doctorate in philosophy. He then went on to study theatre direction and worked at the Stadttheater Bochum, with Claus Peymann as director, before eventually joining the family firm, where he still applies everything he learned in his unique approach to the law.
“It made me who I am today,” DDr. Fürst explains. “Theatre is about the flow, about losing yourself and about communication. When communications break down, lawyers, who are experts in conflict, tend to see disputes in terms of winning or as a war. Laws are ways not to get into conflict; they exist to let you enjoy your rights without having to fight for them.”
DDr. Fürst believes that lawyers sometimes forget that there are very often emotional reasons behind conflicts and, in fleeing from them, we tend to turn to the law for answers. Laws, however, represent much more than an intellectual structure and a set of rules, he argues. A gap exists between the rational and the emotional, and lawyers are often used to bridge it, but if clients have problems, empathy is key.
“My job is all about talking to people, really listening to them and not projecting my vision,” DDr. Fürst says. “It’s about understanding their view of their situation and suggesting solutions. The most important thing is trust and earning clients’ confidence. I lean back, listen, look and learn, to try to see the person not the problem.”
DDr. Fürst Rechtsanwalts-GmbH specialises exclusively in property law, working for well-to-do local clients, some of whom have been with the firm from day one. Next year will mark its centenary and it continues to thrive, thanks mostly to word-of-mouth recommendations: “Property law is based on long-term thinking,” he insists, “letting you gain a better perspective with time and distance”.
The last few years have led to a reduction in the number of cases that appear before the courts, although those that do tend to be more complicated and time-consuming, DDr. Fürst notes. Austrian courts are also self-financing, which often makes procedures prohibitively expensive, and the country’s laws prohibit linking lawyers earnings to results. As a consequence, he feels the overall level of legal advice in the country is in decline.
“I never count by billable hours, but based on the importance of the work and its quality,” DDr. Fürst says. “100 hours is not better than one good idea. Contracts with clients are fully negotiable, but a cheaper lawyer can cause problems and create extra costs: buying cheap can be very expensive!”
DDr. Fürst Rechtsanwalts-GmbH joined TEN early on, after meeting the Dutch lawyer Jos Van de Wouw, the former partner of Egbert Van Ewijk. DDr. Fürst liked his way of thinking and they became friends. Although membership of the network offers few tangible benefits for his firm, it does allow him to learn about other jurisdictions and keep in contact with other lawyers across Europe.
DDr. Fürst also keeps up to date with developments in the profession, having served as a teacher at the Austrian Law Society for the past 20 years. Unsurprisingly, his subject is communication, where he imparts ideas about how lawyers can use body language and communicative techniques to enhance cross-examination and questioning.
When not at work, DDr. Fürst enjoys music, singing and playing the guitar and piano. His tastes include Pink Floyd, Coldplay and Peter Gabriel, but he also performed Vivaldi’s Sonata in A Minor on his 60th birthday in 2017. Now looking forward to retirement, he plans to continue writing a book, provisionally titled ‘The law in reality’, although, to date, he has completed just the first few pages.