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Foreign entities wishing to register an Australian trademark should be aware that Australia is a ‘first-to-use’ jurisdiction. This means that the owner of a trademark is the first user of that trademark.
First to File
In some jurisdictions, the entity that is the first to file an application to register a particular trademark is the owner of that trademark. In a first to file jurisdictions the applicant will generally be the owner of the trademark regardless of whether the applicant has used the trademark prior to making an application for registration, and regardless of whether another entity (that has not previously applied to register the trademark) is already using it.
Arguably, a first-to-file system is easier to manage. Generally, in a first-to-file country, the only step the relevant IP Office needs to take to establish ownership of a trademark is to determine who was the first to file an application to register the relevant trademark. Read more…
Decision 486 of 2000 of the Andean Community sets forth several events that may give rise to the rejection of trademark registration. Said events intend to protect the general interest that is involved in ensuring that no exclusive rights are granted over signs that are not appropriable by the applicant (absolute grounds for rejection) or to protect the private interest involved in prior registrations or other priority rights (relative grounds for rejection).
In addition to the absolute grounds for rejection and the relative grounds for rejection, the Colombian legal framework provides that the Trademark Office may deny registration when available evidence reasonably indicates that the registration has been applied to perpetrate, facilitate, or consolidate an unfair competition behavior by the applicant.
The International Lawyers Network (“ILN”) is so happy to welcome our newest member firm in Cameroon, 4M Legal and Tax.
4M Legal and Tax is a leading Law Firm in Cameroon that provides expert legal, regulatory compliance, and tax advisory services and assistance. The Firm is known for its agility, creativity, and forward-thinking approach. They provide seamless legal services and tailored solutions for even the most complex legal issues. Their exceptional expertise and comprehensive sector knowledge sets them apart, honed by years of experience serving their valued clients.
Primary ILN Contacts:
Epanty Mbanda | firstname.lastname@example.org | (+237) 233 47 59 12 / 674 80 48 | Lydian Bate | email@example.com | (+237) 233 47 59 12 / 674 80 48
This experienced team adds another reliable solution for our firms and their clients in Africa.
Diego Martinez Berlanga and Luis Lavalle are partners at Martinez Berlanga Abogados, the ILN’s corporate member firm for Mexico. More importantly, they are long-time friends, which becomes clear quickly in this fun podcast episode that covers practicing law in Mexico, changing leadership and teaching methods, and why lawyers really aren’t going anywhere.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.…
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network, and our guest this week is Luis Lavalle, with Martinez Berlanga Abogados, in Monterey. Luis, we’re so happy to have you back with us. You’re another of our returning guests, we’re really glad that you have come back to join us. So for those who have not listened to your previous podcast, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm, and your practice?
Luis: Sure. Hi, Lindsay. Thank you for having me. And as you said, more than glad to be back in the ILN. As always, I’ve been a big fan of ILN, I’ll always be, and it’s good to be back and to still promote it, and be taking advantage of the, not just lawyers, but the personal relationships we have built within the network. So very happy to be back.
So my name is Luis Lavalle. As Lindsay already mentioned, I’m in Mexico, specifically in Monterey, which is the northern part of Mexico, two hours away from the US border. Monterey, or Nuevo Leon, which is the state, it’s a big industrial state with a lot of companies, a lot of the corporate groups, most corporate groups in Mexico are headed there. So as Lindsay said, I’m right now with Martinez Berlanga Abogados, which is formed by Diego Martinez, who is a good friend of mine, who I’ve known him for a long, long time. We used to work together with the other law firm, Martinez Algaba, which is a litigation law firm right now. And that’s how I met Diego and we’ve built a good relationship.
So now that I joined him again, I think we’re making a very good matchup with the matters that we used to work with at our practices, and I think they’re coming very good together. As I said, Diego is in Mexico City, myself in Monterey, so we get a lot of geographical, either in the north or in the center. And that gives us a very good strength towards our clients. As I said, we do a lot of general corporate work. We specialize a lot in financial transactions, which is the work that we’ve been doing for a long, long time.
We do a lot of mergers and acquisitions, either from the buyer or the seller side, and we comprise all the stages in those kinds of transactions. Right now, it’s been one of the whole areas that we’ve working for. I don’t know why. There’s been crisis, there’s been inflation, but somehow, a lot of opportunities for entities that have money, or entities that are willing to come into Mexico, it’s been going on. And a lot of the ways that they’re coming into Mexico is through the acquisition of either Mexican companies or foreign companies that have a Mexican subsidiary, and that’s how they are trying to get more market within Mexico. And the good investment that can be made here, since Mexico, as a lot of you know, has a very good international trade agreement with a lot of countries, not just the well-known trade agreement with the US and Canada, but also with a lot of countries. So the network of trade agreements that Mexico has gives a very good site to invest in Mexico.
As always, for political reasons, there are some doubts as to coming into Mexico investor because of our government, but the truth is that, even though I might think it’s a bad government or it’s not a very beneficial government, it’s been working very well. And a lot of the world situation right now, it’s giving Mexico a good advantage in having a lot of facilities in Mexico, because of the logistics site of being close to the US, having very good ties with the US. It’s getting Mexico as a very, very hot place to invest right now, especially for foreigners.
Lindsay: That’s great. And speaking of Diego, actually, I think he’s about to join us, so we can bring him in too.
Luis: Oh, good. Please. That would be great.
Lindsay: We have a special extra guest joining us today, so here is Diego Martinez as well.
Diego: Hi, all of you.
Luis: Diego, how are you?
Diego: Hey, Luis. Hi Lindsay. How are you?
Lindsay: Hi, Diego. Good, how are you?
Diego: I was not supposed to be here, but I just wanted to jump in and say, “Hi” to all of you.
Lindsay: Hi, it’s great to see you.
Diego: Hey, Luis. How’s Monterey?
Luis: Very good, Diego. So we’re being recorded, Diego, so we’re right now in an interview, and Lindsay wanted to ask you a couple of questions.
Lindsay: Sure, absolutely. And we’re really happy to have you. And Diego, you yourself are in Mexico City, correct?
Diego: Right, yeah.
Lindsay: Great. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your practice specifically? Luis was telling us about the benefits of doing business in Mexico at the moment, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about your practice?
Diego: Well, I think that it’s a common and regular practice here in Mexico City, very focused on M&As and all kind of transactions involving Mexican law and Mexican business participants in the market, and also some restructurings, corporate restructurings and financial restructurings, we also participate heavily on that. And as a quite new activity that we have been doing for the past years is helping family offices in their transactions and in their structure, for either high-wealth families and small ones, well, medium size wealth families in Mexico, and very much helping them in the next generation structuring of their assets and of their wealth.
Luis: Transition to the next generations. And that’s a practice that we’ve called, “Family Business,” Lindsay, and I think it’s also getting very hot, at least in the last couple of years, as Diego mentioned.
Lindsay: We’ve seen that with a number of our firms, it’s a really interesting area of business.
Diego: And in Mexico, it’s been particularly interesting because of what Mexico has come from and has evolved as a country itself. Probably last century, there were wars and fights and there were not that many corporate structures in Mexico, it was all very new wealth in Mexico. But as two or three generations have come through, now the families start thinking about how they can maintain their wealth and can make this transition swiftly and evenly. And I think that’s why it’s become work and activity that the families businesses really needed.
And also, another particularity in Mexico is that almost, I would say probably 100%, except corporate America that is in Mexico, 100% of the companies, even though they are public companies, are still family companies. And that means that the families are controlling, the patriarch is controlling the company, then the patriarch nowadays they have children, they have grandchildren, all of them working in the company. And that represents a challenge in how to continue supporting the family, but also supporting the business as itself. And because of that, the legal work and the advice work as a trust advisor, not just as an expertise, has been become a very, very interesting and active activity in Mexico.
Lindsay: Absolutely. So then, what would you say is the biggest challenge that’s facing you in the legal industry at the moment, and how are you working to overcome that?
Diego: I think I would say the participants in Mexico, probably. I’m not sure that Luis will agree, but here in Mexico, as opposed to in the United States, the law firms just shattered all the time in the market. So you are dealing with sometimes not very well experienced law firms that are new law firms with very young people that just started their business out of two or three years in a formal law firm, and they think that they are ready to really come into these kind transactions, and you need to help them to really understand the deal and probably-
Luis: Educate them as well.
Diego: Exactly. I was going to say that was presumptions, but we need to educate these young people that is in front of the table, because otherwise, the business and the transaction doesn’t come through.
Luis: I agree, Diego. Why did you say I was not going to be in agreement? At the end of the day, fortunately for us, I think, we are experienced lawyers, we’ve been more than 30, 35 years in the market and we’ve gained a lot of experience, and that’s, of course, has helped us in putting us in a marketplace where we’ve been well known. And at the end of the day also, as Diego mentioned, it helps to get the business going instead of fighting with the counterparty that it’s always one of the problems or the issues in this kind of transactions. You have a counterparty that might not be well known or might not know how to handle the matter, and at the end of the day, you are directing him, guiding him in order to get the business done, which is a final purpose of clients in these kind of transactions.
Lindsay: Right, right. That’s really client service, in the end. We have this issue in the US and I know we’re trying to work through it with our law schools, but law school really trains lawyers to be good at law school and not so much training them to be good at being a lawyer. Do you find the same thing in Mexico where you’re not so much getting that on-the-job training, where your law schools are more training them to be good at law school?
Luis: Definitely. And that’s an issue that I was discussing yesterday with some clients that are coming into Mexico to set up an entity, a business. These guys are architects in specifically, and I have the same issue. The problem in law schools in Mexico is first our educational system. As you probably know, Lindsay, we don’t have college here in Mexico. You end up in high school and that’s when you have to choose a career, law school, medicine, architecture, accountant, whatever you want. And you are very young, deciding at that age, what you want to become. So that’s a tough one.
Second, the programs of most private universities are structured so that they don’t work. Students are not allowed or they don’t… It’s not that they are not allowed, because they do allow them, but they’re not… The programs are done in a way that they would not incentivize them to work. Diego and myself, for example, since we were probably in first year of law school, we started working, and that’s where you really learn. And a lot of the programs in the university are structured so that they are not incentivized to work until probably the last semesters or the last years, where they have some programs that they call, “Practices,” or [foreign language] or stuff like that.
But definitely, the law schools need to put more attention in practice, and it’s the same issue with architects, and I would guess it’s the same issue with accountants, with same issue with a lot of the professionals. Law schools or education needs to change a lot. We’re seeing it all around. It’s changing, it’s changing. And yeah, they’ve included a lot of courses, a lot of new subjects that are more oriented towards business or more oriented toward the practice, but still, we need to evolve more. What do you think, Diego?
Diego: I agree. And I agree because, as opposed in the US, the way I’ve seen it works when we were working abroad is that, when you are in law school, you really focus on law school during the semester or during the year. And then, you have a three or four months for internship in law firms in New York and these places. And then, you end up this two, three or four months of work, and then you get back to school and then you do that the same thing next year. And then, when you finish law school, you are well-prepared. At least you have an idea.
Actually, lately, what I’ve seen in large law firms in New York is that they have programs where paralegals, they start working for probably a couple of years in a very structured program before going to law school. So then, they go to law school, but they really know how a law firm works and what they are going to be facing in the future. So that makes a lot of sense.And I have very close family members that are doing that in New York, and I think that works, and I think that could work very well in Mexico.
But on the other hand, if the school allows because of the times and schedules of classes, to work in the morning and go to school at night, it’s very tough. It’s very, very difficult life because it’s five years of law school in Mexico and with very little pay out of that. But that also works, and that was Luis’ and my case, that we started at the beginning with very low pays, but working hard every single day, and then going to school and then starting at night. But that pays off.
Lindsay: No, and it is, as you say, very challenging. On the flip side, you’ve got the young lawyers, but then you also have on the other end, the great leaders. And what would you say that that great leaders have in common?
Lindsay: I know it’s a tough question.
Diego: That’s a tough one.
Luis: Great leaders, what they’ve done in the past and what they’ve built is a career where, at the end, they are known for being a trusted advisor. Not just a lawyer, it’s a trusted advisor to businesses. And we’re talking just in the areas where Diego and myself are practicing. They are well known in law, they know the law, they know how to apply it, but they’re also well known in other matters that comprises the business of a specific client, and they’ve come into being trusted advisors. That’s something that it’s not easy to accomplish or become, and I think those are the leaders or those are the lawyers that you turn around and see and you would like to be part of your advisory team. And that’s an evolution. It’s not something that it’s done from one day to another. It’s not something you learn in law school, and you’re not going to learn it in any school. That’s something that you will get a lot by knowing people, a lot by treating people, a lot by experience. And that’s it, I think.
Diego: I totally agree. And also, I think that a great leader, and that a difference that makes stable law firms in Mexico for the long run, is that the partners of the law firm are committed to develop people, are committed to create learning institutions and not just trying to get their work done and go home and forget about anything else of the firm. And when law firms and partners in large law firms do that, I think that they really make a difference, in the law firm’s industry in Mexico, and in the services that we provide for corporations and for families.
And as Luis was saying, that’s totally true. Some lawyers use this the term that they become not an expert lawyer but a, “Consigliere.” So being in Mexico, this kind of family businesses that I was mentioning, at the end of the day, the families, they have a problem internally, and their first thought is, “Let’s talk to Luis because he will tell us not about what the law says, they will understand the family, they will understand the business, they understand the marketplace, they understand globally the whole thing, and they will give us a good advice.” And that’s what really makes a leader comes through a really well and good services provision.
Lindsay: And Diego, you really alluded to my next question, which is helping to create that next generation and really helping to mentor people. What do you think is the importance of mentorship?
Diego: I think that also what Luis and I lived in the past, trust your partner. Trust them, have patience, because it’s very easy in the process that someone gets either from another firm or for a in-house lawyer, to offer you a position with a little better fees and with a little better salary. Because they offer you a car or because they offer you whatever, and then you go there immediately. And you need to have patience for not doing that, and to understand that this is a long run process and you need to have a mentor, a good partner, that will tell you, “Hold on. Hold your horses. Don’t run.” That would be the difference. And we had the fortune of having this kind of partners since, partners that, even still there in our old firm, and that became mentors, and that became very good friends of the both of us.
Luis: And I think reinforcing what Diego says and as he mentioned, we lived it. We lived it personally. I remember, Diego and myself were associates at Martínez, Algaba, and we had two or three persons that were partners that we work with, we were their associates. And we really learn a lot from them. And that also teaches us on how to proceed with our associates now. Now, Diego and myself as partners, we need to create that relationship. We need to teach what we’ve been taught on practicing law, on contracts, on clauses or on certain situations, and we need to pass it along to our associates. Sometimes, it’s very complicated process because you are with the pressure of getting the work out. Sometimes you have deadlines, but you also have the associates that are helping assisting and might not have the expertise, so you really need to have the time to review the work, to teach them. And that’s not something that is easy to balance when the pressure is on.
So it’s something that, at least what I’ve seen, as I said, I joined Diego several months ago, and the associates we have in our law firm are great. They’ve been taught by Diego very well, and they are loyal, at the end of the day. That’s what they are getting, to be loyal, also, with Diego. ‘Cause they are seeing the advantages. And how do they see them? They go to meetings with clients and they see their peers, compared to them, and how they handle matters, how they know the matters. And you instantly see a difference on the way they’re handling and the knowledge they already have, compared to other ones that have not had the fortune or having somebody that is teaching them or that is mentoring them.
Diego: There are two things that I would like to add here. First, we are trying and we are committed to show to these young lawyers the whole business. When we were young, probably that was something different. They would tell us, “Okay, prepare this promissory note. Prepare this clause of this agreement. Prepare this small piece of the transaction.” But we really didn’t understand what everything was about. And with this, since we are a small law firm, and with this commitment, we bring along the associate and we tell them and explain the whole transaction, the whole rationale of the transaction. And that makes a difference from us, as a small medium law firm, from a large law firms with non-committed associates that are also training the clerks. So that makes a difference.
And the second point here is that you have the time, being a small firm, to take them to social things that they can come and see your clients, get involved. And the clients also start having a professional relationship with these young associates, and it’s better for all of the stakeholders of the process, I would say.
Lindsay: Absolutely. I think those are huge benefits because the associates get to understand the whole process and why everything matters, instead of feeling like just a cog in an overall machine. They understand why everything that they do matters as part of a transaction or a deal, so I absolutely see the benefit of that.
Diego: And I’m sure how Luis will laugh here, but we have a lot of experience training lawyers because I, myself, I have a lot of experience since I was 13 years old, training horses. And I train my lawyers exactly the same way I train my horses back at that time. And I do the same with my children. I train them like horses, that’s it. A lot of confidence, a lot of passion for what they do. And again, that works, at the end of the day,
Luis: I don’t laugh, that’s truth.
Lindsay: I believe you. I believe you. It makes me think, and this can be a medium size firm question, is about work-life balance, and whether or not that’s even a reality, and whether or not that’s more possible for a firm of your size versus some of these mega firms. But is that something that you think is possible, and what does that even mean?
Diego: Absolutely. That’s important because, again, Mexico where the social life gets very mixed with the professional life. Let me give you an example. One of my associate, he has been with me for eight years, and he’s a very good golfer. And now, he’s playing golf with one of our clients, and they meet every Sunday in the golf course because it happened to be that they were in the same go club, and that that’s very, very important.
But also, what I’ve always said to my people is, it starts making a lot of difference in the process. First, I tell them, “We are not your priority. You are going to work here just a few hours a day and I want you, first, your priority is your school. Your second priority is you have to have fun in your life and your sport and your train, whatever there. And your third priority is the firm. But that start changing when you finish your law school. Then, you need to party and you need to have fun and you need to be passionate in what you do. But then, there’s a time, like at our age, that everything is work, everything is your law firm, and then again you start changing it.” But that’s the way we try to tell them how to balance their life, because otherwise, you’re going to burn them out.
Luis: And also, Lindsay, I think the pandemic give us a big, big punch on the face to all of us, and it changed, I think, for good, the way we need to see things in terms of life besides work. And of course, it’s been a lot of studies around new generations, these how they call the, “Baby boomers” or the new generations.
Diego: Why generational that-
Luis: They have other priorities, and we know the priorities is not work. Their priorities is to have fun, to travel, to get to know other places, if they have family, of course, the priority is the family and then work, et cetera. So it’s changed, I think, for good. And even for us. Probably in the past, Diego and I would spend I don’t know how many hours, a lot of hours, in the law firm. Right now, you need to see that there’s life after law firms. And we’re trying to get that balance as well.
Lindsay: I agree. It’s so very important. So to wrap up, what would you say the future of the legal market looks like, and how do we get there?
Luis: Diego? I have my opinions, but I think Diego also asks.
Diego: Go ahead, go ahead.
Luis: Well, there’s a lot of things right now, and if you see some of the studies regarding artificial intelligence and which professions are going to be gone, some of them, they say it’s lawyers. To be honest, at least right now, I don’t see it that way. I see lawyers, as Diego mentioned, like personal advice or personal [foreign language], and that’s not something artificial intelligence is going to give you. Yeah, artificial intelligence might give you a very good contract with a lot of clauses that you might not be able to draft. Probably yes, because at the end of the day, that’s how it started.
But the relationship, I would say, even… I don’t know. In a negotiation, in a meeting, the way you look at people, the way you read their faces, the way you negotiate or you try to get a point in your favor or argument, that’s not something artificial intelligence is going to give you. So I see our profession just evolving a lot on these new programs, this new artificial intelligence. But at the end of the day, as we mentioned, programs in law schools might change, and might adapt, but being a lawyer, being a person, is not going to change. And the person, that’s, I think, the basis. It’s the basis for our profession. Relationships, persons.
Diego: I would put it this way. Those are only instruments for the lawyers, not substitutions.
Diego: Substitutes for the lawyers.
Luis: See how we compliment ourselves, Lindsay?
Lindsay: That’s great. It’s good that you work so well together. And I couldn’t agree more. Like anything else, Diego, you put it perfectly, they’re instruments. And I think it will make some of your jobs easier, and then it’ll free you up to do to be that advisor, which is the things, hopefully, that you really enjoy doing. So thank you both so much for being here today and for participating in this really interesting conversation. I really appreciate it, and we look forward to being back next week with another guest. And for all of our listeners, thank you for being here too. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And thank you both.
Luis: Thank you, Lindsay.
Diego: Thank you very much. Bye, all.
I can just hear you now.
“Woooo, Lindsay. Have you left the legal market altogether? Storytelling? Audiences? I know you’ve talked about this before, but this isn’t ENGLISH class for pete’s sake. It’s THE LAW.”
Yes, you’re right, it IS the law, but storytelling remains essential, even when you’re solving legal issues. You may remember this post about the panel I spoke on in December. I am lucky enough to be reprising this session with another moderator and my co-panelists at the LMA’s Annual Conference in Hollywood, Florida, next month, and we’ve been really delving into this idea of why storytelling is so important.
Alina Crisu is the PR and Communication Associate with LLPO Law Firm, the International Lawyers Network’s member firm for Cyprus. In this episode, Lindsay and Alina talk about having a passion for your work, the future of legal marketing in a digital world, and what she loves most about her work.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.…
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths with the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is Alina Crisu with LLPO Law Firm, our law firm in Nicosia, Cyprus. Alina, welcome. We’re so glad to have you with us this week. Thank you for joining us.
Alina: Hi, Lindsay. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure and an honor.
Lindsay: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your position with the firm? And we’ll dive in.
Alina: Excellent. Well, my name is Alina Crisu. It has an accent, actually. I’m born and raised in Romania. And I’ve been living in Cyprus for almost a decade now. And I am the PR communication and marketing associate at LLPO Law Firm in Cyprus, Nicosia.
Lindsay: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us. And so let’s dive into our questions. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment? And how are you working to overcome that?
Alina: Well, to be honest, I feel quite lucky because I don’t have any major challenges at the moment. My brother has had a baby girl, the first child in the family. And I feel lucky enough because, through my work, I can work remotely. So I can be here for this beautiful moment in our family’s life. And to be honest, since Covid, I learned to live in the present moment.
So I take every day as it comes and I deal with issues as they come and I try to organize my life in the near present or near future so that I don’t overwhelm myself with thinking. It can be overwhelming. So I’ve embraced a gratitude mindset, and I’m even grateful for the challenges that come along because we’ve all seen how we can grow from them and be a better version of ourselves basically. I do have goals, but I don’t stress myself with the timeline anymore. Sometimes if it doesn’t happen when I thought it was supposed to happen or how it was supposed to happen, I let it go and I stay flexible and with a positive mind and sometimes some things are above my understanding and they do happen.
Lindsay: That’s a really great attitude, and congratulations on your family’s new addition. That’s really wonderful. And I’m so glad that you’re able to be there to be a part of it. And I think that is really one of the wonderful things. Not that the pandemic was a blessing by any means, but I think there are some silver linings that came about as a result of that. And is your office back full-time in the office or are you all doing some more flexible working in the same way that you’re able to be flexible at the moment?
Alina: Everyone is flexible. The office is still flexible. We’ve actually recently moved into a new office space. We kept the old office space, but some of the staff members have moved into a newer office space. And everyone has their own place. However, they’re lawyers. They might need time to study for a case and they might not want to take everything with them at home. There’s confidential documents. So they might stay in the office or they have to go to court. So maybe they don’t want to come to the office in the morning. They’re just going to go directly from home. But we are flexible. There is still this availability of the hybrid work. Hybrid, still hybrid.
Lindsay: That’s great. That’s really great. So talk to us about the current state of the market and what that means for your law firm.
Alina: As we’ve seen, Cyprus is a small country and it’s a small country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, a bit more towards the East. And it’s an island. It’s protected to an extent, but it’s still, everything else still comes there. Everything else that’s happening in the world in the end, it trickles down to Cyprus as well. So we have seen increases in gas prices, which of course creates this domino effect of everything else that’s in the supply chain.
And so we have seen prices increasing for food, for electricity, especially electricity was crazy this year. Some people are struggling as when it comes to the law firm, there isn’t a huge impact. But we do have to pay a bit more attention to how the clients pay their bills because we also have to pay our bills and it’s a domino effect. And if they don’t pay, then we don’t pay. So we’re a bit more strict and we pay a bit more attention to the billing hours. And when we send the invoices and if there’s anything that’s overdue. Now, we have stood the test of time throughout the other financial crisis that have happened in the world. 2008, it kind of hit us more towards 2013. But because of Covid, I think we saw it coming. This is why we’ve joined ILN and we’ve implemented a few more marketing strategies and we’ve updated our online presence so that we are more out there and we are more implicated in the international world and we are more rooted on the market basically.
Lindsay: And do you think those lessons have better prepared you to face these market challenges that are coming for all of the companies and law firms that we see happening right now?
Alina: Of course they have. I want to take everything with a grain of salt to an extent because I can make a prediction and it might not happen because we’ve seen what happened during Covid. And most of us, for instance, were not expecting for the war to happen. So we can be prepared to an extent, but as I said in the previous comment that I made is we’re going to take each issue that comes and each challenge at a time because otherwise, even as a law firm, we’re made of people. We’re going to feel overwhelmed. So we have the partners that have gone through similar situations. They have experience. And then we just deal with what comes when it comes.
Lindsay: Speaking of people, what do you think great business leaders have in common?
Alina: That’s a great question. Well, one of my recent, let’s say, ideals is the capacity to listen. I think it’s crucial just… And not only in a meeting room and not only to your staff members, but paying attention to what’s happening around the world as well and being able to filter the noise and gain the information and the juice that you need to use for your business.
Lindsay: I absolutely agree. And then I think a knock-on question from that is, considering all of the things that are happening in the world right now, how do you then have those difficult conversations with the members of your firm, given all of the challenges that we’re facing in the world right now? I think we saw that with Covid, with the market challenges we’re facing, with the war in Ukraine. How do great leaders or really anybody have difficult conversations with the members of their firm?
Alina: I think being direct is important and honest. Because you can hide some things, but people will feel that there’s something wrong and we all want to be able to help. It’s one of the human traits. And if you’re honest and direct with your team members, your bosses, your bosses with you, it creates this environment where we end up helping each other. Maybe today we’re not going to order this particular type of coffee. If we need to do some budget cuts, we’re going to bring our own coffee from home or order from a different supplier. Let’s see if the conversation is about budget cuts. If the conversation is about other difficult things, maybe a difficult client, then it’s a different conversation. But I believe that being direct and honest with a calm attitude gets you a long way. And because I’m Romanian, we inherently develop this humor and we approach things with a sprinkle of humor into it. Even sometimes it’s dark, but it pushes you forward through difficult situations and difficult conversations. So yeah, that’s humor. Humor is important.
Lindsay: It can definitely help even, if it’s dark.
Alina: It’s a survival mechanism. It’s good.
Lindsay: For sure. For sure. I totally agree with that. Yeah, absolutely. Do you think that it’s possible to have a work-life balance? And what does that even mean these days? I feel like we all… Especially you’re talking about working remotely and working remotely, is it even possible to have a work-life balance when you’re working remotely?
Alina: I don’t believe in that anymore. I think it’s a flawed concept and it just sets us up for failure. It’s an illusion to think that we just go to this place from nine to five, five days a week, eight hours a day for three, four decades, and it’s not part of our lives. It is. It is your life. Some people might not be so lucky to be able to change their careers, may not be in a position where they can actually do that. But if you can, if you’re in a workplace where you’re miserable, then you should find some strength in improving that. If you can change the industry, if you like the industry, maybe you don’t like the environment in which work, so maybe you should change the company.
Work is part of life and it’s life. We should find the right place for us where we should aim to better our lives, spending most of our days using the best of our skills and bring value into the world. And this is going to make us as well feel valued, and it’s going to give us a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. And again, we’re going to be living in the present. It should be a place where you don’t feel like you must do that, is you go there because you want to do that.
Lindsay: Yeah. No, that’s a very important point. We do spend the majority of our lives at work. So it should be something that brings you passion and that you enjoy.
Alina: And when you are passionate in what you do, it’s easier to go through the difficult times as well. Because let’s face it, even if you love what you do, you will always have challenges. But you will have that desire to move forward. The wheels will move. You will find a solution. You will talk to the right people. You will push through the doors and progress will come.
Lindsay: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Alina: As humans, we are built like that. This is why we have evolution, and this is why we have the technological developments that we have because we do push through and we do find solutions. So I believe there’s a way for everyone to find their career path that will bring them fulfillment, not only financially, but financial fulfillment, but also in the rest of their life.
Lindsay: So what does the future of the legal market look like and how do we get there?
Alina: Okay. Well, I think the future of the legal market is here. Yes, unmistakably. And it’s digital. So wherever we’re going to turn a corner right now, it’s digital. Because you have all the legislation that needs to be created for everything that it’s digital. You have the AI’s development. You have the social media development. You have the criminal digital development. So it’s huge. Now, from a marketing perspective, I do believe that in the next maybe 10 to 15 years, every law firm should have an in-house marketing professional because they have to focus on the digital activity of the company.
And it’s one thing to have a marketing professional from a company that deals with this from a marketing company, and another thing to have an in-house marketing professional. And maybe actually create a team of marketing professionals that focus on different aspects of marketing, because some of it, it will be digital. It will be data collection. It will be KPIs. It’s a wide industry. And because you deal with law firms and because the content, it’s sensitive because it has to be catered to each law firm and to their specific way of doing business, then you need an in-house team of marketeers that will understand the business, that will build the communication. I see marketeers as the bridge between the client and the services.
So the marketeers will have to understand what the legislation is, what is the need of the market, and how to better cater it for the potential clients and how to create the message. Legislative terms can be very heavy and are not understood by the wide market. So marketeers are the bridge that will help translate and put into common language what the law firm can do for the potential clients. So they will understand, this is what I need, I have to go here.
Lindsay: Right, right. Yeah, no, I absolutely agree with you because I think a lawyers especially love to speak in legalese, which is fine. But clients, even clients who are lawyers, don’t necessarily want to receive their materials in that language. They want to speak the language of business. And so a lot of times, it is up to the marketers to translate that into a business language that is what the clients are reading and listening to. And who knows the business of the law firm better than the in-house marketer? Nobody. So I fully agree with you. Absolutely. So how do we get there? As you said, you build the in-house marketing team, then.
Alina: How do we get there? It’s difficult to convince lawyers that there’s someone out there that knows better a particular subject. I know. I know. I think, although I’m saying that I do believe that the younger generation of lawyers do understand this. They are fully aware of the new development of the market because they are part of this. So they are fully aware. Maybe through ILN, because it’s a great network and it has great potential. And the purpose of it is to help its members reach their full potential in collaboration. It can be brought more often to their attention that they might need a marketing team or a marketing advisor, even if it’s a part-time situation in the beginning, just so they can see the value in it.
I have noticed a clash in this idea. Some lawyers do not really see the benefit of having someone that does marketing. They don’t see the benefit in digital marketing. They don’t see the benefit in marketing whatsoever. Personally, I’ve seen that, not from my firm, but from other law firms, other lawyers. The only way you can present this, I think, is through the success of another law firm. They’ll be presented as a case study. This is what we’ve done. This is what our firm is doing. This was our strategy. These are the people and this is the success. This is the result. And I think this will work. It’s just facts, proof and there’s no denying that afterwards.
Lindsay: Well, I like the old adage goes, law firms or lawyers don’t want to be first, but they want to be first to be second. So if you can prove it to a lawyer, then they’ll be happy to take it on.
Alina: How is it in the United States?
Lindsay: It’s fairly standard to have at least at a mid-size law firm level and above to have at least a team of marketers. So although I would say that for most firms, although it’s come on in the last 15 years, for a long time, the marketing team was still considered a cost center. But the last 15 years, I would say that marketers have really done a good job of getting a seat at the table and proving their worth. And a lot of CMOs and directors of marketing are considered an essential part of their law firm management team now. 15 years ago, especially when I first joined the ILN and I was a part of the Legal Marketing Association, which is a marketing organization that is… It is international, but it’s primarily based here in the US and Canada. There was more discussion about how do we get lawyers to take legal marketers seriously?
They really did think of legal marketing as brochures and that type of thing. Which now, I think lawyers, especially in the US, understand that there is a lot more strategy involved in it, which has been really a helpful shift here in the US. So I think a lot of things, not everything is led by the US, but in legal marketing, I definitely see that shift happening where there is that belief that we need strategy. And I say we, I used to consider myself more of a legal marketer than I do now. I have more of an executive function now. But I used to take on a much more-
Alina: Which ever terms make you feel comfortable. It’s okay.
Lindsay: I used to take on a much more marketing role than I do now. But legal marketers in the US certainly do. There’s much more differentiated roles, especially at the big firms. They have pretty big teams. There can be very large teams of marketers at US firms where there’s a director of marketing. They oversee a pretty big staff. And it’s really quite interesting. So I’m hoping that is going to be seen in Europe especially. And for ILN firms, we see that too. I’ve seen a shift where there are more European firms having bigger marketing departments. I see that definitely in the UK has a fairly substantial marketing staff. In Asia, we really don’t see it at all.
Alina: So this is something that I wanted to say and I touched on in my mind. That US is definitely a leader when it comes to marketing and incorporating the marketing strategy and the department into law firms. Then the more you get out of the United States, you go towards Europe and the more East you go on the globe, then you see less and less and less marketing involvement. And in Asia, as far as I understand, in some countries, it’s not even allowed to advertise.
Alina: So the tools are not even there. You’re not allowed to advertise. It’s still word to mouth. And United States, because it’s so business driven and it’s so competitive, it’s a completely different land from the rest of the world. And it does create precedent. And you get to see the case studies and examples of how this could work and how you could implement it into your business strategy. And I do hope that in Europe, this will grow more and more in the law firms.
Lindsay: I agree. I agree. So it has been very interesting for us, I think, as an organization to see over the years, which firms are limited by what they’re allowed to do on their websites. You have to have extreme disclaimers or even just have one very basic page. Some people cannot have business cards or anything can be construed as lawyer advertising, attorney advertising. So it’s really interesting that certain things in the US that are allowed to happen on a broad basis, and people will say, “Well, let’s just do this globally.”
And then it’s like, no, no, no. You have to know what the advertising laws are in every jurisdiction and make sure that you’re abiding by the laws in those jurisdictions. Which again, I think speaks to your point about why it’s so important to have a marketing professional in-house in a lot of jurisdictions, because then what is permitted in that jurisdiction as opposed to having somebody who might just come in, even from a global perspective and say, “Lawyers should be doing this,” because then your marketing professional can say, “No, no.” We can maybe produce this article, but even that can be attorney advertising in some jurisdictions.
Alina: And that that’s a completely different ball game as well from a time and cost perspective because it’s going to be… Anyway, it’s always a difficult task just to get an article approved when you’re there, just to get for everyone to a agree on a particular topic, let alone to go back to the firm that is doing the marketing, have it passed through another 10 hands and then go back. “No, this word is wrong. And this is no. And why are we doing this in the end?” No, no. It doesn’t make sense. You need someone in-house that knows the quirks of each partner, knows the quirks of each lawyer and they know how to deal with them. You also become an HR representative because you have to learn how each person communicates and what their field is. It’s just [inaudible] being a law firm marketeer, it’s a different ball game.
Lindsay: That’s very true. So on that note, what do you really like about your job?
Alina: I love about my job the diversity of tasks that I have to deal with on a regular basis. I like challenges and I love dealing with different things. I think I have a bit of ADHD. So it actually keeps me focused dealing with multiple things. And I love the fact that I learn something new every day and no day is the same with the other. So it keeps me young and curious. It can be overwhelming sometimes ’cause there are sometimes a lot of information that you have to go through in a very short period of time. And today it might be valid, tomorrow it might not be valid because social media. But I do love… This is what I love. I deal with different tasks and I love that I get to design and create content and I get to speak with different people and it’s hands-on as well and it communicates a lot. So yeah.
Lindsay: I love that so much. That’s great. And I think that is the life of a law firm marketer is that no two days are the same.
Alina: It’s true.
Lindsay: So let’s wrap up and please tell me one thing that is outside of the legal market, outside of your work, that you’re really enjoying right now. I know. That’s my tough question.
Alina: Wow. That is a tough question. What I’m really enjoying right now? I’m enjoying creating a portfolio for myself.
Lindsay: That’s exciting.
Alina: I’m into UX design as well. So I’ve been dipping my feet into UX design. I find it fascinating and it teaches me about the practicalities of the digital world. It’s kind of being an architect without having to go in the field and doing the work because it’s not coding. It’s just dealing with the practical side and the beautiful side of everything that we see digitally. Everything, even your Netflix platform or your apps on your phone, they all need a UX designer. And I find it fascinating. That’s something I enjoy right now.
Lindsay: That’s very cool. Good for you.
Alina: I’m a geek.
Lindsay: Nothing wrong with that. Well thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. And we look forward to speaking again. And thank you so much to all of our listeners. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And we will be back again next week with our next guest. Thank you very much.
Pal Jalsovszky is the managing partner of Jalsovszky Law Firm in Budapest, Hungary and a member firm of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay talks to Pal about how to manage your firm and your clients through a major firm transition, what the future of the legal industry may look like, and the secret superpower of being a tax lawyer.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.…
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast. I’m your host Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is actually our first guest ever, Pal Jalsovszky of Jalsovszky Law Firm in Budapest, Hungary. Pal, we’re so happy to have you back. Thanks for joining us again.
Pal: All right, it is my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me, Lindsay.
Lindsay: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm for those that didn’t get the chance to listen to our first podcast?
Pal: Well, actually we are a law firm in Budapest. We have 30 lawyers, which from a US perspective might be considered as a real tiny law firm. In fact, in Budapest, it’s already an upper medium-sized law firm. We are somewhere in number 14 or 15 in the rankings. Well, we provide advice on all areas of commercial law, starting from tax law, actually I’m a tax lawyer, so taxes are a main topic and a main area of law when we started the firm. And since then, we grow up to be a full-size law firm. But the main areas other than tax are mergers and acquisitions, property law, banking and finance, and litigation.
Lindsay: Great. Thank you. So let’s dive in. What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment, and how are you working to overcome it?
Pal: Well, the biggest challenge at the moment doesn’t relate to the economic environment or anything that is happening around us. It relates to an internal effort of the firm because one of our partners who has been serving us for seven years has just indicated that he would leave, and actually he already left. He left last December. And he was leading our banking and finance department. Banking and finance is not among the cornerstones of the firm. The partner who just left last December has brought our banking and finance practice in the firm seven years ago. And since then, it grown to be a very visible and very reputable sector in our office. And the real question was what we do after the departure. And actually together with him, two of our associates have left, so we were left with one sole associate to build up again the practice.
And it’s always an interesting question when anything like this happens how you react. And that can be two types of reaction wise and wonder, “Okay, then this happened. He brought in the practice, he just took it away.” And this would’ve been a very easy answer. The answer, the way that we selected is just the opposite. We try to build it back the practice. And also it’s important to say that the lady who was left is about to have a baby in June. So in June, the practice will be completely empty. So it is an extremely big challenge, but it also gives a test that how steady your law firm is, how steady the reputation of the firm is in terms of the clientele and in terms of potential requisites.
And we started a recruitment procedure just after the announcement was made by the leaving partner and we hired a headhunter. They tried to find good candidates to lead the group. On the other hand, we started discussions with the key participants of our practice, of our clientele lead to see what their reactions are, would they be happy with rebuilding the practice, would they be happy with us serving them under new conditions and under a new setup? And when you dig into such type of issues, when you test the market, it just reflects what the real strengths of the firm are. And we were happy to get the response from the clients that they were extremely happy with us, and they will be happy to stay with us if we rebuild the practice.
On the other hand, from a banking perspective, the market is not the best, because the interest rates are raising high and there is a lesser demand by banks to lend to enterprises. And also there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market. Therefore, it is just an environment where an older banking lawyer would just say that “I want security. I want to stick at my place.” And in such an environment we could pick up two, three candidates who were extremely interested in the position. And we are in the final round of the selection process.
But all the results were very promising and hopefully we’ll be able to sign a contract with the new candidate to head the group at the end of February. I don’t know when it will come on live, but probably, it’ll be already in the past when this discussion will come on live. But it is a real test to the integrity of our firm also because internally you have to sell it that it’s not the end of the world that a partner leaves the firm. Because the departure of a partner always just shakes up the balance of powers and the feeling of security and safety of our colleagues. But this was a big test and we are challenging it and we are facing with it. And it appears to me at the moment, attach to wood, that we are able to solve it. But we need to invest a lot of effort and a lot of work into it.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Obviously, as you say, something like this is a really big challenge for a firm. But do you think that because in the last several years all of us have seen so many challenges and had to face them head-on, do you think that really prepared you as a firm and in particular you as a leader to address this directly and just say, “We’ve already seen so many challenges that were unexpected that this is just something else that we have to deal with and we’re not afraid to meet this head on”?
Pal: Exactly. And I fully share your view on that. One thing that is steady in life is change. You are faced with changes all the time. Sometimes it’s more regular, sometimes it’s like pregnant. And it is correct that in the last couple of years, we were faced with lots of challenges. And yes, it’s increased the strengths of how to face challenges. It’s not the end of the world if something goes out of the order, out of the trail that you were going in the past. And that you are confident that you can solve these matters.
And for example, just one of the recent challenges two years ago with COVID. And I do remember the first couple of weeks when this whole COVID turned up, that all of us were worried that what is going to happen, whether economically we go on, whether clients will still want legal advice. And all of a sudden the demand for the service of our law firms have dropped significantly. And it was also a type of a situation that you needed to gather information, you needed to keep contact with the clients more regularly, understand what’s happening with them, understand their reaction. And yes, this is in a different pattern, but the same type of exercise that you need to understand the reaction of a certain event in your partners within the group, within the firm, outside, within the client. And to act in a speedy manner, and to act rationally, and to be prudent. We are getting used to the challenges. It is correct.
Lindsay: I wish we could get used to fewer challenges, but I think that’s probably not the case anymore. Speaking of challenges, you did mention the market contractions, can you talk a little bit about the current state of the market and what that means for you as a firm and for your clients?
Pal : Well, probably you will not be surprised that the market is shaken up at the moment. I remember last summer when we were talking about that. “Oh, something will happen in the autumn time. And in the autumn time, everything will been shaken up, we’ll be upside down.” And the autumn came and nothing has really happened. And clients were saying, and this was the general business intelligence, that the crisis will come during the wintertime. And we are in the middle of the wintertime and nothing really has changed at the moment. One thing is present is the unpredictability and uncertainty. And when the prospects are uncertain and expectations are uncertain, this is bad for economy, this is bad for transactions, and this is bad for the lawyer’s job as well.
There are a lot of reasons for uncertainty. There is the war still ongoing and you do not see the end of the war. There is inflation, there is a possible decrease in the demand, there is the split of supply chains, there was the increase of the price, not really the increase, but the unpredictability of the price of raw materials. And all of our clients or most of them have suffered from it. And in such a case when there’s unpredictability, then pricing, for example, in M&A transaction is becoming uncertain. And the buyers have a bigger confidence in their firm by sellers. By purchasers, they see a result, current result, they see an uncertainty, which makes the chance for agreement on the price is lower.
Also, there’s a question to what extent private funds are able to raise money and are able to pull up money from the investors. Also, interest rates have increased, which makes the banking lending frequency much lower. So there are lots of such circumstances and events that are not connected to Hungary that is connected to the entire world. But it has also, it affected Hungary, which makes the future uncertain and which makes our clients a bit worried.
And it does have its effect on the operations of our firm. Which even last year we saw a drop in property transactions. We are seeing a drop at the moment in M&A transactions. We started a lot of M&A deals in the middle of last year, but some of them were suspended, some of them were postponed, and there are fewer transactions, much, much fewer transactions in the pipeline than there were a year ago. So these service lines are a bit dropping in their frequency or in the business.
On the other hand, we are happy to see our other service lines to be very busy. We are the number one firm in tax advisory, and tax advisory is still a product that is very much sought by the client. We have a very steady waste management, a waste planning business line, which is soaring, which is going very, very well. Also, litigation department still has lots of cases to handle. So I would not like to complain and in general our firm is growing steadily. Well, there is definitely a drop in certain types of transaction, but I consider that this is just a temporary drop and they will revive the activity in the second half of the year.
Lindsay: That’s great. That’s good news. You talked about tax still being very important for clients. What would you say is the biggest area related to your practice that you’re curious about at the moment and why? What’s of most interest to you?
Pal: Well, I’m curious about the entire future. I’m curious about the future of the entire world. I’m curious about whether we’ll enter into the third world war. I’m curious about what the global climate change will bring in. So at the moment, I’m curious about lots of things. And I always have in my mind that I would like to be buried and revived in 100 years time, and just read the history books that describe what happened in the 100 years after my demise.
But a very special thing that I’m interested about, it’s linked to our operation, but not very directly linked to our business or activities, is the future of legal technology. Because I believe that, realistically, technology can be used by lawyers very efficiently in many of their practices. Let’s talk about putting together contracts, digging in databases, also answering clients’ questions, putting together memorandum. And I believe in 30 years’ time or 40 years’ time, the legal profession will be changed entirely.
On the other hand, the real question is how we get from now to the situation which I predict in 30 years’ time. It is interesting to see the steps of development or the absence of, still, the massive use of legal technology. Although I know that in certain IT centers in the US, in the UK, law firms are investing massively in legal technology. Well, at least, I would be interested to see is really what type of job is done there. And I would be happy to send our legal technology manager for a year in technology center of a big American law firm to spy, to see what they are doing, and to make the most out of it, and introduce it to our law firm.
But this is a very interesting development that sooner or later will appear in the legal business. But we are talking about on it for 5 years, for 10 years, and few things have really changed that have materially changed our daily practice. But they will come without question. But the interesting thing is how they will, and in what moment, with what rapidity, with what speed they will enter into a daily practice and when.
Lindsay: I agree with you. And I think one of the most sort of interesting developments in the last few months is the new AI ChatGPT.
Lindsay: And how that’s going to impact. I know Jim Flynn from Epstein Becker & Green, our member firm from New York and Washington, just wrote a really interesting blog post and used some of that in his actual post. He had some mixed reviews for using it. But I think that’s going to really impact the legal industry, and I wonder what the impact of that’s going to be?
Pal: And that actually it’s also in the legal industry, but also on anything that we put it to writing. We promoted a partner the beginning of this year, and actually we just played with the idea that when we just announced the promotion, we used this chat functionality. And we just asked the chatbot to provide us an announcement. It was a very, very good wording. At the end we didn’t use it, but we were just curious that if it was not for us to put together announcement, but we left it for the AI, what could be the result. The result was at very high standard. And it’s developing and it’s increasing its capacity day by day. So it will have an impact on everything. Also on writing fictions, on writing articles, on writing legal memorandum, and also making public announcements of the arrival of partner or the promotion of partner.
Lindsay: Absolutely. And I always think of it as having two functions in the legal field, not only the actual impact of potentially writing, as you say, legal memorandums, but then as you say, when it has an impact on other industries, then the legal field will need to know what’s happening in those industries. So that it will then have a say on what the impact is on those industries as to what the legal industry will need to get involved in. And what happens when an AI does something in those industries, what’s the knock-on effect of that have to do then with the legal industry?
Pal: The very question that what will be the role of us human beings. Do we have any role any longer?
Lindsay: Right. And who owns it? I mean it turns… And that becomes very interesting sort of copyright issues because if an AI writes something, who owns the copyright? I know we had that very interesting sort of chimpanzee issue with the photograph that the chimp took, who owned that copyright? So I think we’re going to see some very interesting legal cases coming out of this to watch.
Pal: I fully agree.
Lindsay: So switching gears, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Pal: Well, to tell to the listeners, you have already posed this question in writing, so I could just have the opportunity to make my reflection on it. But I was just thinking that what would be the most interesting, because I could say that I was an opera singer at the age of 10, and I’m also bridge player, but I believe that the most relevant thing is that at my heart and even as my first profession, I’m not a lawyer, I am an economist. And my first study was at the University of Economics. And I always felt as an alien in the legal business and among lawyers. So I never considered myself as a lawyer.
So it was interesting that when I entered into the UK, probably, it is there at the moment as well. Because when Hungary and the UK were also part of the EU, we didn’t have to fill out any forms, any immigration form. But I remember when I had to fill out immigration form and there was also always a question, what is your occupation? I have never written lawyer. Because I didn’t feel myself as a lawyer, although, I also have my second degree, it was a legal degree. And I was acting as a lawyer for 10 years or 15 years giving legal advice and trying to solve clients’ legal problems.
But what I like most in my life and also in my law firm is not the provision of legal advice, but the management of the law firm and using my knowledge and my capability that I learned as an economist and not the one that I learned as a lawyer. It has lots of faces. Because, for example, I find it a much more interesting and intriguing part of my job to prepare a controlling report on the financials of my firm than to write a legal memo. Probably I’m, not probably, 10 or 15 years ago at my old law firm, I was the only one who could handle an Excel sheet.
And I do remember when all my lawyers were just behind me, when I just added up, I summed up my bills that I had to pay at the post, and I summed up all the 10 figures there in an Excel sheet, which is the simplest use of an Excel sheet. They were looking, what type of program do I use? I feel myself as a bit alien in a legal profession, but it is also my benefit and my key asset, because I can talk to clients not as a lawyer, but I can talk to them at their own language.
I do understand what the expectations are from a lawyer. That they do not want to receive a very big memorandum at the end with really questions that the answer can be yes, the answer can be no, but we do not provide you any clear answer and we do not assume any responsibility. But they would like to get an answer that “Okay, 80% yes, but if you choose yes, then the potential negative outcome is this and this and this.” So I more understand their reasoning, their way of thinking.
And this helped me a lot in also building up the firm, also managing the firm, keeping contact with the client that I don’t feel myself as a lawyer. And also just to take into account that I never felt really good in a company when there are only lawyers present. All my companies, all my friends are coming from my university of economics. And I very much feel like at home when I’m with tax lawyers because tax lawyers, they are a very special kind of animals. They have the same type of strange way of thinking that I have. So I’m very happy to be together with tax lawyers. But as a lawyer, I never felt like really big part of them.
Lindsay: That’s very interesting. And yes, tax lawyers certainly are their own animal. And I’m sure that really has served you well. I mean one of the things that I know we’ve encouraged in the legal profession, the last certainly 10 or so years, is to run it more like a business and less like a law firm. So you are really ahead of the game there. That’s really amazing. So what would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career?
Pal: Well, I’m talking now as a leader and not as a lawyer. And when you’re a leader and you’re leading 30/40 people, which doesn’t seem to be much, but 30/40 people, are 30/40 different human beings who all of them have emotions, all of them have a special understanding of what I’m interpreting to them. And actually I have a responsibility towards the firm, towards my colleagues. I also have a responsibility as the leader of one of the most prestigious law firm in the society, in the general day-to-day communication. And what is important is that I take care of, really of what I’m saying, how I’m putting together my phrases and phrasing my sentences. Because in the past, I could easily found myself in a way when I offended someone. I didn’t want to offend them.
I try to make a joke, I try to make a very special argument, but with people who are around me, and they do not have the same type of thinking that I do, I have to stay very cautious and very prudent of what I’m saying, and how I’m saying. And it’s important when I do want to make an announcement, I make a preparation of what I’m about to say, and what words I will use. For example, it was an interesting lesson, an interesting example when I announced the departure of my partner. Well, I just written down just word by word my, I wouldn’t say a speech, but the type of message that I want to just address to my colleagues in order to be really clear-cut, to encourage them, to let them know how will we deal with this situation. Because once you make a small mistake and you are not clear enough, you can be misinterpreted, then you may not be able to correct or take back the mistake that you have committed. Correct the mistake. Sorry.
Lindsay: Absolutely. That’s very true. Can you tell us about a mentor that you had who meant a lot to you during your career?
Pal: This is also a question I thought about a lot, but I didn’t find a real good answer for that. I consider myself more a self-made man. And I try to pick up from everyone the thing that I believe he makes right. But I put it together according to my own set of assets. And I do remember one person who very early in my career had a big impression on me and he still has a big impression. I started before my legal career, I was in the insurance industry as a finance person. And then the head of that insurance company was a very characteristic, very strong guy with charisma. And at that time you probably had lots of leaders like that. At the moment, currently there are very few leaders who are really strong personalities.
And I do remember when the head of the insurance company just announce something, there was no question about that. It was the single God, it was such an authority that no one was about to challenge. He had that personality and such type of authority that you very rarely find today. I’m not that type of a guy. I always believe that I have mixed strengths in company management. In certain cases, I’m performing well. In certain cases, I can still study a lot. But he is just such a personality that you imagine for yourself as a leader of an enterprise, and I very much admired his style of leadership.
And also when I was confronted to him, and I do remember that, at that occasion, with that firm, I was the second ranked at the finance department. And there was an elderly lady who was the boss of the department. And you can expect that I was at that time, 27 years old, that the lady was 50 years old, and we had many conflicts against each other. And I always just went to the boss saying that I do not agree with the lady. He always turned me down. He was very straightforward, that what was important to him, that if there is a conflict between me and the head of the department, he was all things giving right to the head, because she was the one who represented the management of the financial service area in that insurance company. And I do remember that in many occasions, I believe, “Why doesn’t he believe me? Why doesn’t he see that with more in details?” But now I see that sometimes you need to simplify your decisions, and you have to have certain ideas, certain principles, and you need to stick to it.
Lindsay: Absolutely. And so wrapping up, what does being a part of the ILN mean to you?
Pal: It’s interesting. When we joined ILN, I had a different expectation that ended up altered. Because when you are in the growing phase of your law firm, you would like to make as much files as much humanly as possible. And you just join an organization saying that, “Hey, they will send me a lot of referrals.” And I do remember that the people joining, I end up, “Oh, they’re a bunch of people from different jurisdictions, most of them will have very interesting efforts concerning Hungary, so within a short period of time, we will have lots of files, lots of cases landing on our desk.”
And later on, it turned out to me that the real strengths of ILN is not that. I wouldn’t say that we do not receive good cases from ILN members, but the real strengths of ILN is that they provide a community, an international community that I feel myself being a part of. I can always just be proud that we are an international law firm in the sense that we have international affiliations. If I have a problem in any part of the world, I do not have to open up a legal 500 directory, but I turn to you or turn to others of your colleagues, even if this is in Belize or in Guatemala. Then I can turn to you Lindsay, and you have someone in Belize, you have someone in Guatemala. And then you turn to me, you drive me to the right advisors, even if it’s not an ILN member that we have, they are on our best friend list.
So ILN provides us a security net that internationally I’m supported, anywhere in the world I can find a reasonable advisor. And on the other hand, I very much appreciate the certain personal connections that I have with ILN members. And it’s always I’m interested in getting to know other people. And in most of the case it’s tax people because they have the same mindset that I have. But also I’m very happy to gather together, and to get together and to meet and get to know people from different countries, different jurisdictions with different mindsets. And all the gatherings that you organize are interesting. It is just the icing on the cake that we also receive a couple of mandates, but it is not any longer the most important part of our membership in the network.
Lindsay: That’s great. I love to hear that. I’m so glad. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate your time today. And to all of our listeners, we’ll be back again next week with another guest and we look forward to talking to you all then. Thank you so much.
Pal: Thank you, Lindsay, it was my pleasure to speak to you
When speaking with one of my lawyers last week, this was a question that he posed to me – it was not one he had an answer to and he suspects that it may not be possible. At least not in the way that law firms are used to. He said,
It’s not possible anymore, in my opinion, to have those vertical organizations where you have orders coming from the top and where everybody is treated the same way. Because people, if they are in different situations, you cannot treat them the same way if you want to be fair. So you must adapt.
So, how CAN one have a law firm in modern society?
If you’ve been here a while, you know I’ve been talking about the “future” of law firms since 2016 and it somehow feels like so much time and no time has passed. COVID and the war in Ukraine and race reckoning and the loss of Roe in the US and the battles for women’s rights globally and battles for many other human rights as well have all changed not only the landscape of our personal lives but also our professional ones. We have come to realize that we can no longer separate work and life because we are still people at work, and our work impacts our lives.
As usual, what this means for law firms is that some things remain true and some will change. The particulars will, of course, be worked out by the firms themselves, but as for the broad strokes, the modern law firm will need the following:
Yes, we’ve been beating the collaboration drum for years, but I don’t see this changing any time soon. And this isn’t your garden variety, “hey, we have a great team of lawyers!” type of collaboration. I am talking about having a deep understanding of your clients (which, I believe by now is tables stakes and everyone knows that) and being able to bring together a strong, smart group of people to tackle their business issues. That may be lawyers, it may be accountants, it may be other business people – but it’s about knowing the right people who can do the right work that your clients need at the right time to solve their business issues. You, as their lawyer, understand their business so well that you can foresee the legal issues to come, understand their appetite for risk and what their needs are, and can make introductions where needed. As the lawyer I spoke to last week said, “the law comes afterward, later on.”
I put these two together because I believe they are born from the same strategies. Once again, I will caution against jumping on technology for the sake of technology, though of course, I know who my audience is! I rarely worry that lawyers are jumping on the latest new thing. However, when it comes to running and managing your firms, it’s worth taking a critical look at both your business processes and the potential technologies that you can use to see where there may be efficiencies.
That’s not to say that EVERYTHING is made better by technologies or changing your processes – or that in the interim, things won’t be slowed down before they improve. But this is where the low-hanging fruit often is. Yes, there is a financial investment. Yes, there is a time investment (and for lawyers, this means money). But in the long run, there will be efficiencies that you find here that will improve your ability to practice law and focus on the part of practicing law that you actually LIKE. Consultants can be helpful here to advise you (again, an investment) but there will be a return on this for you and your firm. This is not about the shiny new thing – this is about looking at YOUR firm and YOUR practice to identify what will make the most sense to improve things for YOU. Be cautious of anyone who has an out-of-the-box solution for you immediately – that is not going to be your savior. Just…trust me.
Apologies to the Boomers in my audience, but this is going to happen. I struggle with this one too, even though I’ve worked from home for over 18 years – and it’s not that I personally struggle with it, because I love to work from home. I’m an introvert, so I’ve found ways to connect with people, stay inspired, remain motivated and work incredibly hard (sometimes too hard). My struggle is that I recognize the difficulties with training the next generation in the workforce when they don’t have mentors who are easily accessible to them and training has to be more intentional. I’ve spoken to a lot of lawyers about this, and there is really no clear answer.
But that being said, the upsides for remote working are just too high. During the height of the pandemic, although it was terrible for many reasons, the workforce was incredibly efficient. Law firms had their most successful years on the books. People got time back because they didn’t have to commute. Firms can make the decision to downsize very expensive real estate investments.
There are downsides for people with small homes who don’t have a dedicated workspace, young children who are underfoot (though, when we’re not in a pandemic, those children may be in school or other childcare). But the in-office options are still there for those who WANT to travel in and be present – it is only that forced in-office working should be a thing of the past.
Change is inevitable and with any major change, we have all wondered how we will adapt – before phones, we didn’t believe anyone would ever use a device to speak to each other over long distances. Before email, we didn’t believe anything would replace the telephone (now we barely use the phone, if we can avoid it). I truly believe that offices will be much more optional in the future. The next question will be how we can avoid burnout from working too many hours at home because it’s so accessible..
CSR has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must” have over the last few years, but even now, it’s less integrated in most firm and company cultures than it should be. We consider diversity and volunteering and community engagement and environmental concerns as more of an “add-on” than as woven through everything that we do as people and employees and organizations.
But I think the various reckonings that we’ve had and the blurring of the lines between our professional and personal lines have made it more natural to incorporate these things into every part of our work. We’re clearly way behind on diversity, but I have hope that we’ll do more to be inclusive and equitable, as well as diverse. To lead the way on sustainability efforts as part of who we are as organizations, rather than just something that we’re forced to do because clients expect it.
Being a modern law firm will not be easy – we can already see many of the challenges today. What are some of the trends that you see firms aligning around for the future?
Taras Utiralov is the Director of the Ukrainian office for PETERKA & PARTNERS, a Central and Eastern European Law Firm and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this very special episode, Taras and Lindsay discuss what it’s like to work during a war, leading an office that never missed a day of work, the very real “war/life balance” and what the future looks like. Please do not miss this episode!
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.…
Lindsay Griffiths: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm ILN-telligence podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Taras Utiralov from PETERKA & PARTNERS in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Taras, welcome. We’re really glad to have you with us this week. It’s some unique circumstances you’re joining us. I would love for you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself, the firm, your practice, and then we’ll dive into some questions.
Taras Utiralov: Hi, Lindsay. Thank you for the introduction, the warm welcome. Indeed, I am Taras Utiralov, as you said. I’m a partner and director for Ukraine at PETERKA & PARTNERS. I basically run the office and my main duties, I will say, are connected to the management of the office, but when it comes to the legal practice mostly and then they incorporate issues and antitrust in competition. So basically this is it, this is.
Apart from that, we also have other practices. Obviously, in our firm, we are more or less a full-service law firm in Ukraine, except for maybe some criminal law issues. We don’t dig into that. But otherwise when it comes to all kinds of support of the business in various areas, such as corporate labor issues, intellectual property, just general contracts, something like that, and of course when it comes to litigations, arbitrations as well. These are issues that we normally cover.
Lindsay Griffiths: Great, thank you.
I think the number one question that most people have on their minds when it comes to Ukraine is we’re coming up on 10 months of war there. I know that your firm has continued to operate throughout and serve your clients. Can you talk about what that experience has been like for you?
Taras Utiralov: Yeah, indeed. I would like to talk about this experience and to share it with others. I hope that no one ever has, in the future, such experience. But still I think it’s important to know about it and to know what’s going on.
Now we have almost, I would say, 11 months of war because on 24th there will be first anniversary. We hope that it’ll be the last one. But unfortunately it is not for sure the last anniversary as we live through this war. I mean, from the start, we say of the big war because the war itself started back in 2014. Now, I hope that everyone understands that that was the start of the war because it was hidden on the side of Russia, et cetera. But now we understand that that was the real start of the war.
But indeed on 24th February in 2022 started the big war, the full-scale invasion. I’m sure that no one could have imagined the real scale of this invasion, how it would actually take place. Of course, some people predicted that there would be some escalation of the war in 2022, that maybe there would be some bigger land operation in Eastern Ukraine or something like that. But I’m sure that no one could have imagined bombings of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other cities from the first day of the war. Basically, that’s what happened. This is what we faced when we all woke up in Kyiv or in other cities and through all Ukraine.
Of course, it was shock for all of us. I would say the main feeling of the first days of war was not only quite obvious and normal. I would say fear for physical safety and the fear that you can be physically exterminated, too, within the coming days.
But there were also fear that, which I may say may be even worse than the fear of physical extermination, all the world around you, where you live, your home, your work, your friends, your relatives, everyone, as such, this world will not exist anymore in the coming days. That basically all the life you have been living through will be just erased.
I mean, it can be compared to a situation where you normally move to another country because still you plan, you have friends, who at least mentally you feel that they may help or there is a state which can help. But you just feel that you are not alone. But in the first days of war, there was a feeling that all that, which I mentioned, it would just not exist anymore. I mean, the state, there is no one who could help you because basically they are thinking, first of all, about their own existence. That is quite normal because they cannot help you if they are not sure whether they will live in the coming even hours. You cannot expect that anyone would help you, except for maybe the closest people who you live with. This was, I would say, the main challenge of the first days.
But funny thing is that we didn’t stop working for even a day. That is also true. The first new request, which I got since the start of the invasion, was actually in the evening of that very day. I got a new request, which was related to a foreign client who was staying in Ukraine, how to help him. We had a call the next day. Of course, my first reaction would be to say, that unless you have a fighter aircraft in your hands, that basically you couldn’t help him. But still, we got some legal-related discussion. But indeed that the first days it was not very standard discussions.
I must say that a big support which we got was from our equity partners, from our owners in the Czech Republic. First of all, for the fact that they didn’t panic in the first days. They didn’t just close. Well, not close office, but simply dismissed the people from day one because this is, frankly speaking, what happened to most of Ukrainian offices.
Well, and I cannot say that I can blame them for this because they had a completely different situation. For us, our biggest advantage was, and continues to be, that almost 100% of our clients they are in Ukraine. I mean, they are foreign companies or subsidiaries of international companies, international groups. And thus they were either remotely affected by the war or they had support from their headquarters, from their groups. And thus they could continue operating that way, and thus we could also continue operating.
But when it comes to purely Ukrainian law firms, they usually have the majority of clients, at least by the turnover, who are purely Ukrainian businesses. Of course, those businesses were not sure about their existence as well during the first days. This is what happened. Basically, the people, and in the law firms and well in many other businesses as well, they were left to deal with these problems themselves, frankly speaking.
But again, that wasn’t our situation. And so we basically didn’t fire, didn’t lower salary for anyone. We continued operating like nothing happened from this standpoint.
It was also important for our mental support because, in these circumstances, it is important to stick to at least something that used to be normal for you. And so if you have the same job but you do more or less the same work, that’s something you can stick to and pretend that you try to live a normal life. This was the very first days or weeks of war.
Luckily again, after months, or two months maybe, it became clear that Ukraine at least will continue its existence as a sovereign state, and thus Ukrainian lawyers will still be needed because that wasn’t so much clear in the first days or weeks of the war. We are not engineers. We are not even software engineers. We’re lawyers, so we’re no one, nothing unless we have a country where we are qualified to work. That was quite a personal thing for us, not talking about people, to the whole situation with the war.
But many lawyers whom I know, they immediately started fighting for their country in their armed forces, and they continue doing that. That had also an impact on the industry. Of course, as the work continues, there will be more and more of such people. That’s also something that should be remembered. Of course, this is one of the things which you must know.
Lindsay Griffiths: Of course. I’ve seen there are some lawyers that I follow on LinkedIn from Ukraine who have become part of the armed forces, who had been lawyers before and are now fighting for the country versus those of you who are still doing that in a different way as part of the legal system. I think equally both roles are important.
What would you say is the difference between how things are operating now versus how they were in the beginning of the war? I mean, you talked very succinctly in the beginning. It was a lot of uncertainties. You didn’t know how long this was going to go on, and now you’re saying you see it going on for a little bit longer. I think, obviously, things are very uncertain now because you don’t know really what your day-to-day looks like.
But I’m sure that there’s some more you’ve… I don’t want to say you’ve gotten used to it because that’s a really terrible thing to get used to, but you have some more certainties now than you did at the beginning. Obviously, some people had evacuated in the beginning but have now come back. What does now look like versus in the beginning?
Taras Utiralov: Yeah, strangely, but also I would say luckily, now clients’ requests are not too much different from what we used to have before the big war. Strangely again, but now we do normal legal work mostly. Of course, there is a considerable part of work which is related to mobilization of people and the issues related to who cannot be mobilized. Because there is also situation that of course some businesses and some industries are crucial for the economy, and those people need to stay working and that’s also how it’s all processed, et cetera.
We do have such kind of requests from our clients, but basically all these issues, and about this mobilization and about HR issues as such, they represented the majority of our work in the beginning of the big war, in the first two, three months of the war, almost. Well, again, I cannot say the exact figure, but this was the majority of our work, which was related to all these. Now it’s only a small part of what we do, and otherwise it is normal legal work.
In general, yes, we discovered how adaptive our mind is and how adaptive a human being at all can be, as you said. We really got used to it. It seems that basically you can get used to anything if it’s stable no matter how bad it is. But basically you get used to it. And so yes, but this is the protective mechanism for our mind because if you got to live in a shock for too long, basically you will die.
This is what we discovered that we can get used to it, and the key thing is to try to stick to some normality to the extent possible to how it used to be. You can change it of course, but it should be stable because there is things which you cannot control the world. And so you need to control what you can and stick to it and try to live the normal life, at least to the extent possible.
This is what we are doing as lawyers, as people, as well.
Lindsay Griffiths: I think that’s a very important point.
And so to that point, how do you control, or not really control, more balance, the very real professional needs that you have for the firm versus the very real personal needs that you and your colleagues have going through all of this here?
Taras Utiralov: Obviously, you do know the term work-life balance. Now we say it’s war-life balance. Frankly speaking, starting from when Russians ran away from Kyiv region and from the northern Ukraine and we are in the north here in Kyiv, so for several months in Kyiv it was more or less a normal life.
First, we had issues with petrol supplies. Well, until you face it, you just don’t even know how important it is because you got used to a situation that you can come whenever you went to gas station and fill up the tank and go where you were going. It wasn’t the case in May, June, but I was…
It’s one of the feelings I forgot to mention, but maybe it’s one of the most important ones. That’s proud for the country and for the people and for the unity of people because this was really a surprise for me, the pleasant surprise. Not only me, I guess the whole world wasn’t expecting that. Not only the armed forces which are complete heroes, but that goes without saying. But I mean the whole population stayed united, and crucial businesses continue working whatever it takes.
I mean, the petrol stations on the bombing counterattack, they continued working. Within a month, they changed the whole supply system for petrol and diesel in Ukraine. I cannot imagine, frankly speaking, how it was just from the management standpoint, from the commercial standpoint how it was done. But previously, most of our supplies were from Belarus, and obviously we couldn’t continue like that. There were also in Ukraine one or two factories which produced petrol, but they were exterminated quite quickly. And so now almost all the petrol and diesel coming to Ukraine is from the European Union.
Again, this shift was made within a month. Already in the end of June, we didn’t have any issues with petrol, and we don’t have them now. The trucks are going back and forth through to Ukraine and from Ukraine to the European Union and back. This is how it goes now. Again, I cannot imagine how it could have been done, but it was done. I was the witness of it, and all of Ukraine was witness to that.
But again, from the standpoint of physical safety, it was okay. Yes, we got air raid sirens back then as well, but we were not, frankly speaking, taking them too seriously because we knew that in Kyiv it wasn’t something serious after the first months and then several following months were okay.
But the situation changed in October when Russia re-launched this bombing of the critical infrastructure, basically of power stations and all the critical infrastructure which supplies this electricity to power the city, whatever. That changed a lot the way how we live because basically every air raid siren now…
Well, an awful thing is that we still differentiate them because when we get an air raid siren, and of course I encourage all the people to go to shelters, but anyway, it is always up to each person to decide whether he or she wants to go. That’s how it is unfortunately because, well, otherwise we would be all going back and forth to the shelters all the time.
Frankly speaking, yes, we ignore this. Sometimes because we read that it’s not a missile launch and actually a fighter which went to the air in Belarus or elsewhere. Again, it’s not the fact, but usually it’s just a sign that they are preparing for the launch, that it will not be now. Usually when it is launched, unless there are missiles of very high-speed missiles that we differentiate the missiles, some of them we cannot hit.
I mean, unfortunately we cannot hit them. But luckily Russia has too few of them and they use it very occasionally. The majority of missiles which they have our air defense system can hit. They do it in the most of the cases, and you have one hour or so while the missiles are in the air to hide. Again, this is the awful thing to say, but this are just, say, the realities.
We have to work in these circumstances. Again, so all people of course should go to the shelters. If they do, they normally don’t have the ability to work there because it’s in the underground or in such places. But otherwise we continue working normally. We, of course, made the reservation for clients when we provide some deadlines when they provide for deadlines. We say that it may happen that they will be postponed, but otherwise, we are working.
Of course, as the electricity infrastructure was damaged in October and November especially, we started having issues with electricity then. By issues, I mean that for instance in my place where I live, I have three hours when I do have electricity, then four, five, six hours when I don’t have electricity, and then again. Yeah, so wherever possible, we purchased gasoline or diesel power generators, these charging stations, basically big batteries.
And so with all of that, we try to work as usual way as possible. There were also issues due to that. You don’t even think about it, but it appears, which is quite logical when you think of it. But you never think of it in this way, that when the whole cities have electricity blackouts, they are all disconnected from the power grids.
Then mobile network also stops working because all the antennas of mobile providers that also require electricity. Yes, they have. As the time passes, they install more and more generators and other stuff, antennas. But no one could have expected that obviously from the very beginning. That’s why we had issues with internet connection as well, especially October, November, then the situation got better. But still sometimes we do have them still, which is also a challenge.
Frankly speaking, this was one of the fears in the first days of the war that we wouldn’t have any possibilities for communication. But luckily then that wasn’t an issue, a factor. Now, it is sometimes the issue, but basically, because you understand that the system as such works then that is not such a big fear. But it’s just a complexity in the work and in day-to-day life, which over months becomes better.
We hope that as winter ends there will be less power consumption in the countries in general because you don’t need provide for heating, which now takes the majority of the electricity usage. Then it’ll be easier.
Lindsay Griffiths: It’s amazing the things that you don’t even think of happening. I mean, there’s certain things you assume that happen and then all of these other knock-on effects that come on as a result of all of the other things.
You talk about internet connectivity and electricity, and one of the things that I was reading about, and this happened I know as part of COVID and global lockdowns, was an increased risk for cybersecurity. I’m wondering if that’s been something that’s been discussed as part of client concerns and that type of thing as well. Because obviously with a lack of internet and electrical issues, has that been something that has come up for you as well?
Taras Utiralov: Yeah, I would say that, and in general by the way, COVID has done a favor for us that we all, and the whole world, got used to working remotely because otherwise that would be an additional shock for us. But we had an ability to continue working remotely, which is a must for us now because basically it’s not always safe to work in the offices which are allocated in the center of Kyiv. We are decentralized. From wherever and whenever one wants to work from whatever, it’s up to him or her. Even if it’s another country, we’ll still continue working.
You are right, yes, there were concerns about cybersecurity, but frankly it didn’t affect that much our clients or us as a firm. Because again, our clients are all foreign businesses, and they usually got all these matters treated globally. Basically, most of them store their information, the key information, at least abroad.
Same applies to us. We all store the information in the European Union with all due compliance with the GDPR and other stuff. This was our big advantage because we didn’t basically have any important documents stored electronically here. Because there was also an issue that the offices could be destroyed physically, and the information can go to someone who is not supposed to have, frankly speaking.
But again, this wasn’t our case. From this perspective, we were protected. But still, we obviously do have paper documents, both our internal documents and clients’ documents. That was the biggest concern, I would say, for me as the director because obviously they were still in Ukraine as they should be and in the offices. But luckily our offices were not directly affected by the war action.
Now, we and the majority of businesses in Ukraine, may even say that almost all of the businesses, are trying to switch all processes, to switch everything to the electronic format. And so we all switch.
This all started, back then in COVID times, but now it has become even more important because, due to safety reasons as you mentioned, and as I mentioned. Secondly, it is due to the fact that people are located wherever you can imagine. I mean, not only in Ukraine but in other countries as well.
But still we need to exchange documents, and of course it has become more burdensome to exchange those in paper form. More and more businesses switch to electronic document exchange, and this will also help us in a long-term perspective.
Lindsay Griffiths: Yeah, it’s true. I think COVID, and now certainly the war, is forcing everybody to do things in a more electronic format, which is good in some ways, but unfortunate for the reason.
What is something that you want people outside of Ukraine to know, and how can… The number one question I think all of us have, and the question that I get, is what can we be doing to support your firm and, more broadly, the people of Ukraine?
Taras Utiralov: Yep. I must say that basically the first, and maybe the only thing that supported me and I believe that all Ukrainians in the first days, the first months, and still supports Ukraine, is the scale of support which we got from the world. I posted at this basically most of people, most of lawyers did, on LinkedIn message in the first day of war on about this fact, explain what’s happening.
It got some thousands of likes, et cetera, and many messages of support. Not only due to this but in general, I started getting messages from people I haven’t seen decades. My classmates, who have been leaving as I learned from them only then because these were not my closest friends. I finished the school, and that’s the last day when I saw them. They started messaging that, “Look, I live in Europe, in Canada, whatever, for a long time. Whatever you need, call me anytime.”
And so that was indeed the greatest pleasant surprise, really. Everyone gave, had support in practical means. As I mentioned, one of the biggest fears was that no one can help you. Even the words that people demonstrated that they are ready to help you, they are important, so again, luckily we didn’t need that much and in real practical support now as a firm.
Not strangely, but surprisingly, and luckily, I must say that our office remained profitable in 2022. I can even say that we demonstrate the second best result ever, which is a pleasant surprise. It is not a surprise. Again, this is due to the fact that we’re working on that previously and continue to in 2022. But I must say that. So as such, we do not need any practical support. But it is important for us as people to understand that we do have a support from the, as we say, civilized world.
As to the country in general, I must say that the biggest support and what we need is obviously support armed forces and, well, you basically know all this happening. We just need from normal people, not governments, the support of this trend to provide more and more support or armed forces because this is the only tool how to end this.
Not just me, I mean people from abroad ask questions whether it can come to any peace negotiations, et cetera. But frankly speaking, and again a very practical question, whether we can give up Crimea for instance. My only answer to this is unfortunately, or fortunately, whatever, but we don’t have that choice. We as Ukraine, we are not given that choice.
Crimea was occupied and annexed by Russia since 2014, but that didn’t stop them. If Crimea was everything which they needed the 24th of February 2022, that wouldn’t happen. If we give up now Crimea for a sort of peace, we must understand that that wouldn’t be a peace. It would be just a pause for them to regroup and attack again. Because again, this is what they did. We never attacked Crimea since 2014.
Basically, we understand that wasn’t enough. The only thing which Russia needs is the whole Ukraine, and we have no option to give up something for peace, and that’s the only thing which… Indeed, the negotiations may take place, but only at the point when no one can continue them. As soon as Russia can, well, if Russia wanted to stop this, they would stop immediately, then. We’re not attacking Russia. They withdraw from Ukraine, that would stop the war immediate. But that isn’t happening just because they have the resources to continue.
The answer then is that we need to fight back as soon as they leave the whole Ukraine, including Crimea, then something may happen. But then we’ll have another issue that we need to join NATO. Because the fact of presence of nuclear weapons for members of the NATO, that’s the only thing that may stop Russia from further attempts to attack Ukraine, basically. It is how it is.
Lindsay Griffiths: Right, that’s true.
What do you see as the next steps for Ukraine? I think we spoke before we started that you think this will go on for at least another year. And as you said, you don’t believe this is going to come to a negotiation. Do you-
Taras Utiralov: At least until one of the parties cannot continue fighting.
Again, for us, it is not an option simply because we will just stop our existence and if we stop fighting. But Russia, it’s not option because they can continue.
Not only as a firm but as a country in general, we try to live as normal life as possible. For instance, well of course economy of Ukraine is in a terrible situation. But when you think of it, it’s not that terrible as it could have been. I mean, strangely, again surprisingly, the whole system continued working not only the state system, but the businesses in general, too. The bank system hasn’t stopped working for a single day, for a single hour. Bank, cars, everything continued working, whatever happened, I guess we didn’t even have any majority bankruptcy since then. I don’t recall. Yeah, they were not.
Because for instance, as compared to the situation 2014 when the first days of that war, the start of that war, half of the banks of Ukraine went bankrupt. I mean, we used to have more than 100 banks in Ukraine before 2014. Now we have like 50, and so there was nothing like that since February last year.
By the way, IT industry, which is one of two biggest industries, profit generating in Ukraine nowadays. Second is agriculture, but agriculture had its issues with logistics and basically how to export. Because we are an export in terms we don’t need that much grains and whatever in Ukraine, we’re exporting the majority of what we produce to other countries.
But now, as you may know, there is this Turkey-supported initiative when the ships can go from Ukraine abroad to get their grain, et cetera. But due to that, I don’t know the figures, but I’m sure that they were not so brilliant as they might have been because of the war logistic issue.
But IT industry has showed record figures in 2022. Well, the NATO standard is, what, two or 3% of GDP for military expenses? I don’t recall the figure, two or three. Now, our military expenses are 50% of our state budget. Not surprisingly, and we have like 50% of lack of money, the budget. Our budget is only half supported basically by the West, as we say, a civilized world, different countries, European Union. From this standpoint, our economy is very much dependent on the external support.
But at the same time, businesses they try to continue working. They go abroad. Many businesses expanded to Poland, to the Czech Republic and otherwise. Again, we have, here as a firm, a huge advantage as well because we have offices all over these countries.
I didn’t mention that, but during the first months of this big war, ladies from our offices, they relocated temporarily to Prague mostly. In Prague, we had half of the office maybe working for several months there in our offices in Prague. They had huge support, and that was also an important thing. But now almost all of people are back in Ukraine. We are now working from our offices here. And so this is basically how all businesses try to continue working.
Yeah, many of them had considerable part of staff relocated in the beginning, but now many people who come back to Ukraine during winter, there have been issues again with electricity, all that. And so some people came back to Europe. Now they will come back to Ukraine like this.
Again, we try to live and to do business as usual to the extent possible, to continue doing this business, bearing in mind that as a country, we have an economy. We do need support, financial support, from our partners abroad.
Lindsay Griffiths: It’s quite incredible. I think all of us, as you say in the civilized world, are really quite impressed. You certainly have our support, and I have my Ukrainian flag flying outside I can tell you. We certainly do send all of our support and love to all of you. If there’s anything that you do need, please do let us know.
Thank you really for joining us today, and we look forward to sharing your story and to hearing better news much sooner.
But in the meantime, as we said in the beginning, you have not lost a day of business, which is truly a very impressive thing. I cannot even imagine. I think there are firms that have lost business for much less, and so this is really truly an impressive thing.
Taras, really thank you for joining us today, and thank you to everyone else for joining us. We will be back next week with another guest. Thank you again.
Taras Utiralov: Thank you. Good luck.
When I wrote my first blog post on February 26, 2009, I could hardly have imagined where we’d be 14 years later. It would be fun to try to predict, and maybe I’d have gotten some of it right, but I try not to guess at the future.
One of the things I suspect we’d all have gotten right in some form is ChatGPT. I have been loathe to try it for many reasons – I’m not a technophobe, as you can all imagine, nor am I someone who advocates for lawyers to run and try the next big thing. Though, for those of you who have clients who may be using it or dipping their toe in the water, you know I will suggest you get to know it intimately for the usual legal reasons.