27 March 2019
Chris Karambatsos Interview
|In Conversation: Chris Karambatsos
By Connie Perl
Chris Karambatsos is never static. He’s always on the move, embodying an energy that can only be described as both powerful and productive. On the morning of February 22nd 2019, a few moments of his day were reserved for reflecting upon the past, present, and future of the firm he co-founded, with which he has become virtually synonymous.
Tell us about the genesis of KRB.
Taking a big firm approach in terms of quality, consistency, sophistication, and applying it in the mid-market. Montreal is uniquely positioned as an economically vibrant city, but with a very strong mid-market and small-medium sized business environment. We thought that lawyers with experience from working on large deals would thrive in a business model adapted for the mid-market. There was a space there to fill.
If you could summarize your day-to-day for us, in just a few words, how would you describe your role?
I would describe it as a very involved attorney and managing partner.
Looking back on the past 5 years, tell us what you are most proud of.
We met our goal, which was to build a firm to service the mid-market, and based on the reputation we have forged, we have done that very well. We have built strong relationships. We are offering a nice alternative. We have a unique approach in the way that we deal with client files that has been very well received by the business community. Obviously, the quality of the lawyers that we have been able to attract, the quality of the clients that we have been able to attract… we are very proud of these as well.
Why do you think KRB is causing such a buzz in the legal realm right now?
It sounds cliché… You hear quite often that people hold themselves out as, “I’m a lawyer but I’m [also] a business advisor.” And a lot of lawyers do that in a tremendous fashion. What we have done here is build a culture of that, where lawyers are trained to be business advisors. Our lawyers are trained to take ownership of a client relationship and to be proactive, and they understand what the client is doing. We help the client identify needs rather than wait for the client to pick up the phone and call. When you institutionalize something as important as that which is the culture of, yes, we are lawyers, but we are here to serve you and the growth of your business… that’s special, and that sticks out. That will, in and of itself, create a buzz. We have not partaken in any sort of marketing campaign. Lawyers at other firms appreciate working with us, and that has been a very important factor in our growth over the last five years. When your peers are positive about what you are doing, it is a formula for success.
What is your vision for the firm going forward – what is your utopic notion of what it could potentially become?
We want to remain a boutique firm. It is ingrained in our fabric, in our culture. In terms of where we are going… we will keep doing what we are doing. We are always looking for talented lawyers to bring to the team, but for the most part, we will remain a corporate commercial boutique law firm specializing in transactional work, corporate work, real estate, financing and litigation related to all these fields.
What kind of legacy are you attempting to leave, way down the line?
Ultimately, the values of the firm are traditional. We have not done anything drastic to the actual business model of a law firm. We are rooted in tradition. I would hope that we continue to be rooted in tradition, and we will do what it takes to have the kind of environment where a lawyer can come in and want to spend their career. We are a strong team, and lawyers that have joined us really appreciate the ability that they have to build their own individual brand within the business community. Ultimately, we want to come to work every day surrounded by people that are happy to be at work. That is what we strive for, and that is what we will keep.
There is the obvious family aspect to the firm – you and Alex are the foundation of the organization. What made you decide to go into business together?
Alex was a sole practitioner, and I come from a big firm background. We really complement each other well. The things that you don’t get taught in a formal and structured big law environment, you know… [Alex] was able to fill those voids. And in terms of that sophistication of big law, that was something that I was bringing to the table. It is a very interesting dynamic. We adapt to each other’s vision.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your day?
I like the morning. I like to see people coming in, happy to be here. It feels good waking up in the morning knowing that there are many people that rely on us to operate this firm to the best of our abilities, to service them, to support them in their business. We are making an impact. We like to service our clients.
Is that what attracted you to law as a profession?
Aside from being argumentative?
Aside from your natural disposition.
When anyone googles your name, or the firm, there is much to be found in the way of your business acumen. What is exciting to you about forging a place for yourself in the business world?
It is exciting knowing that every decision you make can have important impact in the business endeavor that you are pursuing. It is interesting having to negotiate the balancing act between analytics, data and your gut. Many people at the firm have taken on leadership roles and it’s great to sit down with these individuals and brainstorm over decisions that effect the firm. The more people are exposed to the pure business side of things, the better they are at advising clients.
Finally, tell us one thing about you that people would be surprised to know. It could be professional, personal, or something you think people don’t see on a first impression.
I hate having a phone to my ear, which is why I’m always on speaker, or a headset.
Also when we decided to take the third floor, and build out the third floor. The idea was to move everybody into brand new offices and call it a day. Then the renovations took a little bit longer than expected, and we realized that we were going to be pretty tight. So I said, “we should keep the fourth floor.” And Alex was like, “I’m not going to pay for 4500 square feet of space we don’t need.” It was a very difficult decision to make. We ended up keeping double the space that we needed, and paying double the rent that we needed, on the expectation that we would grow and we would grow fast. I knew everything was going to be okay, but that was one of the most difficult decisions that we had to make. We set ourselves up for success.
As a final note, we always keep the boardrooms full of a variety of candy. It has been very well received by the clients, who insist on having meetings and closings at our office!