My friend (and business associate) Helen de Larrinaga
I have known Helen for around three years. We worked together at my previous company where I was Head of Trading & Leasing and she was our dedicated lawyer from the Sygna Law Firm in Paris. I think we became friends mainly because we are both very well organized and follow deadlines. Also, she understood quickly how I work, which is that I defer to lawyers for every legal detail because I am very bad at this and very impatient when it comes to actually reading contracts.
Helen would send me emails with what I needed to look at from a commercial and project management point of view and she would take the necessary steps to make deals happen. I love working with her.
I was still living in Luxembourg back then and she would come regularly to work from our office. We would either have lunch together, go for afterwork drinks, or we would invite her home for dinner (yes, Daniel is a very talented chef – I am lucky).
After that, I moved to APOC Aviation (and Amsterdam) and I contracted Sygna from my new job, too. Helen and the Sygna team working with us came to the Netherlands when APOC organized a big party on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of its establishment.
Helen has that Parisian style that we all want; she wears minimum make up and she is gorgeous. She is a very good friend and a very good lawyer. She hates gossip and we love to laugh together. We meet pretty often in different locations as we usually go to the same aviation events.
Helen is a successful woman. Being a partner at 32 is a very big achievement and she is always sets a good example.
But I will let the interview below tell you more about her.
Can you please make a small presentation of yourself?
I’m a lawyer with the Paris bar association in France, specialized in business law. I’ve been working primarily on the aviation portfolio of clients at my firm and a few months ago, after spending a year as general counsel in an aviation group, I became a partner at Sygna Partners in charge of the Contracts / Aviation department.
When did you know you wanted to become a lawyer?
I started studying law out of curiosity as you don’t study that subject before college in France. From there I knew quite quickly that I wanted to be a lawyer: go to court (although I don’t do that as much these days), elaborate a strategy, defend my client’s position.
Would you change your job in the future?
The job can be very versatile, so I may change some things here and there in terms of how I would exercise, but I don’t see myself changing, for now I’m still passionate about it and feel like you never stop evolving in your practice of the job.
Did becoming a Partner at 32 years old, at your law firm, bring a lot of changes? If yes, what were they?
When you are on the “partnership path” at Sygna you get more involved, little by little, into the daily life of the firm, so you get an idea of how things will develop. However, as a partner in a medium sized firm like Sygna, you must contribute to how the company is managed (communication, budgets, income, human resources etc) rather than just producing your work. It is a new and extremely interesting exercise.
Do you have any advice for aspiring lawyers out there?
The practice is probably somewhat different in France compared to common law jurisdictions. But a good habit to take in any country would be to read a lot (not only law related books, but industry related books, novels, anything to become a fast and efficient reader). I would also advise not to become too specialized at first but to really try and get an understanding of the sectors they will be working in, and how a company works (not something we learn too much about in French law school), and then throughout your career to try and stop and think about what you really want our of your professional life in terms for the next few years, whether you are in the right firm, field, or way of practicing (in a firm, in-house…) so that you’re working toward a goal. Clocking in long hours is one thing but being able to know where you’re going makes it worthwhile.
What do you enjoy most about a lawyer’s (in aviation) life?
I think the most enjoyable part is being involved with very different companies and clients, getting to know them and the way they work and sometimes shedding a different light on some aspects of their legal and regulatory operations. Aviation in particular is a very fast-paced industry and it is always challenging and new, and the international aspect of it allows to discuss with colleagues from different backgrounds and to always be learning.
What is it like to be born and raised in Paris, the city of love?
It’s difficult to compare obviously, but I think it made me very adaptable. It is a big city, very diverse, and during your education you change neighborhoods and interact with people from very different backgrounds. The love side is probably less obvious than when you come here to visit though!
How is it to be a Parisian? Are the clichés true?
To be fair… most clichés are true. We do eat baguette with cheese and drink wine all while taking romantic walks down the Seine with a book by Jean-Paul Sartre in our hand.
Would you ever move from Paris?
I’m not sure: it is fun, beautiful, and I have literally everyone I know here. However, it is also a very crowded and busy city and as I grow older, I may wish for a place with a little more nature and quiet.
What are your hobbies? What do you like to do most?
I like TV shows, doing yoga. When I’m not working, I also sometimes play music, go on walks or play some video games. (Come on Anca you know I work all the time, why do you make me answer to this?)
What is your favourite travel destination and why?
I usually like discovering new countries, so it’s hard to pinpoint one! Usually a beautiful beach, nature or sunset would do the trick, so I would say Basque country in France; otherwise, there are wonderful places in Bali, Turkey or Colombia.
What is your favourite French dish? Do you cook? What is your favourite restaurant in Paris?
Typical French dishes are very often made with meat and I don’t eat much meat… I cook a lot (especially with home isolation these days!) but rather Asian, Indian or Middle Eastern-inspired food. For favorite restaurants in Paris, it changes all the time and I haven’t been to one in 47 days (due to Corona lockdown), but the two last I ate at and loved were Galerna and La Petite Vadrouille, in the XXth Arrondissement.
What is the location of travel you recommend for non-French tourists in France and why?
Basque country! Beautiful beaches and mountains. However, there are a lot of beautiful places in France that I haven’t discovered yet. I’m sure the easing of travel restrictions will give me that opportunity!
How do you combine personal life with business life (especially when you are traveling so much)?
I don’t! More seriously, when travelling it is hard to combine anything, so I just accepted it. For the rest, I try to stick to a schedule, set up a daily list of tasks, and treat only the emergencies during “out of office” hours. That is a work in progress.
Thank you, Helen, I wish you success in your profession, many travels and a lot of love!