“I’ve always played a sort of game in which I constantly refute myself—meaning I imagine a conversation and put myself in both positions, refuting and responding to myself”
What she enjoys most about her work is the connection she establishes with the client, which is one facet of a lawyer’s job: “It’s the therapeutic or psychological side that the client needs and also appreciates.” She also enjoys the way that each case leads you to develop your ‘legal imagination’ to try to cover all the weak points.” In our interview, Elena discusses her experience from both sides of the classroom (as a student, and also as a professor), and reveals who has impacted her career and her life.
Elena Rodríguez, Spain
IE Law School Professor
What stands out from your experience as a student of the Master in Legal Consulting for Businesses?
It’s the best education I’ve received in my whole life, not just from an academic point of view, but also professionally and personally. It’s a very difficult master’s degree, and the standard of both students and teachers is very high, making it extremely competitive. So you really have to make an effort to not fail and to meet those expectations. From a personal perspective it’s also very educational, because it teaches you how far you can push your mind and body, which is much further than you might think. What’s more, it begins to teach you what real life is like in regards to working with others, whether you’re on the same team or opposing teams.
And what stands out most from your experience as a professor?
Upon completion of my master’s degree I began working for LEXINTER ABOGADOS, and my boss Juan Carlos Olarra offered me the chance to join him in teaching an accounting class. At first the thought of it made me dizzy, but I suppose a youthful impulsiveness drove me to accept the offer, and I began to teach classes with him as an assistant professor. Later a permanent post opened up, IE offered it to me, and once again I agreed. All this happened more than 18 years ago, and I enjoy it more and more each day. Not just because teaching accounting has enabled me to truly understand it, but also because the caliber of the students at IE makes the role very rewarding, both from a personal and an academic perspective.
What would you say has been the most significant project or achievement in your career?
I wouldn’t mention any specific project, but I would say in general when you achieve something that a client strongly desires and you’re able to give them the good news that you managed it—that moment makes up for all the work you put in.
And, in terms of an achievement, this is not specifically one of mine, but rather something that happens in general to any lawyer who’s been working for around 20 years: the kind of “legal eye” that you gain from experience and that, when you receive a new case, immediately gives you a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses, and of what could be the possible reaction of a judge or prosecutor to a specific request, a piece of evidence, an allegation, or, in general, a line of defense. This is the most important thing, and it’s something that you can’t learn from a book. You can, of course, get confused, but that “legal mindset” that you acquire over time can help you a lot to work better and faster.
What excites you most about your profession?
Rebuttals. I really enjoy them; in fact, I’ve always played a sort of game in which I constantly refute myself—meaning I imagine a conversation and put myself in both positions, refuting and responding to myself. It’s like playing chess against yourself, but if you do it right and try to think through every last argument, it sharpens your mind.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and career?
My mother impacted my personal life with her infinite love, generosity, strength, and faith, and I know that no other woman could ever match her.
On a professional level I would say my boss Juan Carlos Olarra, who inspired me with his intelligence and legal skill, and continues to do so every day. And it’s not because he’s had an extraordinary legal education, but because he has the perfect mind for law. His acumen and intuition take him far beyond his training, allowing him to innovate and find highly original and effective paths and solutions. I strive to reach his level, so that even if I don’t equal him, at least there won’t be such a difference between us.
What is the greatest challenge for lawyers?
I think that one of the greatest challenges for everyone today is new technology. Technology is advancing at a highly accelerated rate, and it’s very difficult to benefit from these changes when we have so many other matters to address. I’m sure that we’re not taking advantage of all that we could be, for the simple reason that there isn’t enough time to dedicate ourselves to this kind of progress. The solution is to be more aware of the importance of these tools, and to take some time to study them and think about how to put them to good use.
The other greatest challenge is the fierce competition in the legal sector, which has a lot to do with the previous point, and increasingly so. This is because, in addition to the high number of lawyers here in Spain, there are more and more tools that are filling our roles. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that they’ll never be able to replace us fully, but it’s a fact that they’re here and they’re being put to use.
What advice would you give to young lawyers who are beginning their professional careers and want to develop a career in law?
I would recommend that they become experts in every case they work on; that they become the ones who know the most about the issue at hand. This will require a huge amount of work, effort, and creativity, but precisely because they’re young, they’re the ones who are most capable of it.
What is your superpower?
My ability to work; I can work tirelessly. And the more pressure I’m under, the better and more effectively I work (it was the same way when I was studying). I do recognize that at the end of a particularly tough period, I need a break to give me some peace and the strength to go on, and as long as I have that I’m happy.