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"The automotive industry is in a state of upheaval - that also challenges me as a lawyer."

Our mobilizer of the week, Sylvia Ebersberger, financed her studies with a job on the assembly line at VW. Today, she is a partner and the face of the international law firm DLA Piper for the automotive sector.

The mobilizer of the week is DLA Piper partner Sylvia Ebersberger. She advises clients from the automotive industry on all contractual matters along the value chain and heads the international automotive subgroup of the global law firm DLA Piper. Internationally, she is the face of the firm's automotive practice, and at the Munich office she is DLA Piper's only female partner.

A colleague says about her: "Sylvia inspires me because she has overcome the "old" and long outdated norms in the industries in two respects at once:

First, as a partner in the legal world, and second, as a lawyer in the automotive sector - two industries where, unfortunately, you still have to look for women in leadership positions like a needle in a haystack."

Ebersberger says that as a young lawyer in Frankfurt, she initially mainly advised on mergers and acquisitions, i.e. corporate transactions. "The fact that I came across the automotive sector happened rather by chance. Because I was interested in the complexity of the products and there was a connection to my past, I stuck with it."

In fact, I had contact with the automotive sector relatively early on because my father was an engineer in the automotive industry. The technical aspect was always relatively close to me. My first summer job to finance my studies was actually at VW on the assembly line. So that's where I experienced how complex it is and what all has to work together to create a vehicle in the end.

Sylvia Ebersberger, Partner at DLA Piper

In 2010, she said, she worked for the first time on a large scale for the automotive sector. "I had the opportunity to consult on a whole series of cooperation projects for a German manufacturer with French and Japanese companies, and I dove in very deep."

She said she worked with all sorts of disciplines along the value chain to map the stages from development to construction to vehicle distribution in contracts. "I found that I enjoyed digging deep into our clients' operational issues and translating the legal aspects that need to be considered into the technical world."

The projects ran for several years, he says, and the number of automotive mandates Ebersberger handled grew. "Today, the industry and its support takes up 90 percent of my work," she says.

Clients from suppliers to OEMs

Her clients include German and international manufacturers in the car and truck sectors, as well as suppliers such as BorgWarner and Waldaschaff Automotive. "But there are also relatively new market players such as REEAutomotive from Israel, which is developing platforms for vehicles that can drive autonomously," she says.

Her favorite mandates, she says, are those that have to do with innovation and transformation. Ebersberger says, "I like to have my finger on the pulse. For example, there's the topic of hydrogen: we're assisting a manufacturer of hydrogen trucks with the rollout in Europe and making sure that hydrogen trucks will soon be driving around Europe and can be used by logistics companies."

She said she was already able to accompany one of the first fuel cell cooperations 15 years ago. As a lawyer, she was also involved in one of the first conversions of a complete vehicle line from the classic combustion engine to electric drives.

I find it particularly exciting to accompany these transformation processes, because I then have the feeling that I am actually helping to move something forward. Of course, I don't have the technical know-how to develop a product. But I can make my contribution to ensuring that a product is realized and that the industry continues to evolve.

Sylvia Ebersberger, Partner at DLA Piper

She accompanies her clients in cooperations with other manufacturers or suppliers. "The essentials have to be mapped out contractually: which participant makes which contribution, who pays what, who owns the development results, who is liable if something goes wrong, how do I dissolve the cooperation again?" enumerates Ebersberger.

International network of automotive experts

She also heads the Automotive Subgroup at DLA Piper together with a colleague from the USA. This is a network of experts for the automotive sector. Their task is to identify the right lawyers from among the more than 4,500 available and to bring them in for the respective projects and to broaden their knowledge of the industry.

"Law firms have recognized for some time that it not only makes sense to organize by legal field, but also by industry. Because clients are also looking for experts who understand the industry."

Outside North America, she is the face and first point of contact for the firm's automotive practice. Chinese or U.S. manufacturers who want to go to Europe often turn to her first. "I then start putting together the respective European team."

That works through core people in the respective countries whom she already knows from her own clients. "The colleagues then help identify other lawyers in the respective country, for example France or Sweden."

But within the Sub Group, she says, it's also about following current legal developments and keeping each other up to date and educated. "In Germany, for example, a new law on autonomous driving has come into force. We presented that in a lecture that all our colleagues could listen to - including those in the U.S. - who then in turn reported on the extent to which there are comparable developments in their local area," Ebersberger recounts.

She acquired the technical know-how for her job by repeatedly asking her clients' engineers. "There are a lot of terms in the automotive industry that don't exist in any other industry. A different language is spoken there. That's why I always advise young colleagues: don't be afraid to ask questions." She says, "We can't write good contracts if we don't understand what's going on in the background."

Ebersberger's colleague says of her that she masters her job with passionate woman power, inspiring naturalness and impressive organizational skills. "She's a mother of two and works reduced hours (80 percent), though everyone knows she'd rather work 20 percent more than 20 percent less."

I have two children, six and nine, and although I was so specialized, at first I wasn't even sure I wanted to be a partner because I wasn't sure if it was compatible. Then, as the mandates and responsibilities grew and I also got feedback from clients that they wanted me to take care of their projects, I took the plunge..

Sylvia Ebersberger, Partner at DLA Piper

It was all a question of organization and support, says Ebersberger: "It also worked out because I received a lot of support. From clients as well as from within the firm."



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