Pavla Kopeckova Prikrylova is a partner with PETERKA & Partners, a Central and Eastern European Law Firm, as well as the chair of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and Pavla discuss the changing landscape of business in Czech Republic, the role technology is playing, and why lawyers remain essential for business.
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. Our guest this week is a returning guest, our chair of the ILN, Pavla Kopeckova Prikrylova of PETERKA & PARTNERS in Prague, Czech Republic. Pavla, welcome. We’re happy to have you back on the podcast. It’s been I think almost three years since we’ve had you on, so we’re really happy to have you back with us.
Pavla: Hello to everyone. Thank you for having me here again. And you’re quite right, it’s been almost three years. I remember that the previous podcast we actually showed during the beginning or the first few months of the COVID pandemic, so I’m glad that today we are turning this into a totally different environment and under different circumstances, which are far more regular, normal, than at that time previously. So, I’m very happy to be here, and thank you for having me.
Lindsay: Thank you. Yes, me too. It’s much different circumstances now. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your firm and your practice and where you are right now?
Pavla: As you’ve said, I am based in Prague, Czech Republic, in the office of PETERKA & PARTNERS Law Firm, which is an originally Czech firm, but we have also eight offices across Central and Eastern New York. It is a firm that operates as one firm, which means that it’s not a franchise or a network, it’s really one integrated law firm. And I’m one of the eight equity partners. I’ve been with the firm since the very beginning. So, I’m one of the, as I say, dinosaurs of the firm. My primary areas of expertise or practice are M&A, corporate, commercial, transactional work, in general, I would say. I leave litigation to my colleagues, to make it short.
I focus mostly on various transactions touching on automotive industry, mechanical industry, all kinds of manufacturing related or unrelated to automotive, it really depends. And also, real estate transactions of all sorts, be it acquisitions, leases, sales, divestments. It’s quite varied, and all kinds of transactional work, commercial contracts of all sorts. There is also one field that I like very much because it’s very vibrant and very innovative. It’s the startup scene that actually combines all the areas that I’ve mentioned, but on a very small scale and a very initial stage, usually. Because startups are just at the phase of starting their business or trying to make it grow. For me, this is very interesting to be able to be part of it, because I think that that’s where my expertise can be really materialized, because they usually need some advice in all aspects of their business growth.
Lindsay: Very cool. What would you say is your biggest challenge then at the moment, and how are you working to overcome that?
Pavla: I think that my biggest challenge has always been the time management, because I am a very punctual person, and the various areas of my activity would require each of them majority of the working day, I would say. So, it’s sometimes very difficult to manage with the same level of perfection that I would like to give to all of them. And now it’s not only on the level of the lawyering, the attorney work, but also in various other areas. So be it an attorney in the firm, mentoring my younger colleagues, which is a part of my vocation here. Mentoring the startups, as well, that’s a totally volunteering activity. Also being the chair of the ILN takes some time of my business hours, I would say.
And also, my activities within the International Bar Association where I’m an officer within the European Region Focus Diversity and Inclusion group. So, these two latter ones I would say take more time nowadays, because the ILN is preparing to host a European Regional Conference in Prague in early October. And I’m at the process of finalizing a project of diversity and inclusion toolkit for law firms within the International Bar Association group that I’m a member of. And we are about to launch it at the annual meeting of the IBA in late October in Paris this year. So, it’s quite a busy period, I would say.
On top of that, I have two kids that will start a new school year just next week. So, it’s all combined, I would say quite time demanding. If you ask how I’m trying to overcome these challenges, I’m constantly trying to improve the way I set up my priorities, and I’m trying not to deprive myself of sleep so much, and I must admit I’m not always successful in that fight with time.
Lindsay: Yes, that was going to be my next question is how do you get any sleep?
Pavla: Well, over the past six or seven months, I haven’t had enough sleep, certainly because of one of our clients being overseas. So, it also takes an additional effort to adjust the time difference. But nowadays, I’m working mostly on European time zone, so it’s much better.
Lindsay: That definitely helps. It’s good to be working in the same time zone. Can you talk to us a little bit about the current state of the market and what that means for you and your clients?
Pavla: Well, Czech Republic, as you might know, and all the east Eastern Europe basically used to be a place to do a good business in terms of lower labor cost and relatively skilled labor cost, labor workforce. And this competitive advantage that this area has had is now, I would say, more or less used out, which means that the cost of the labor force has gone up. Last year, there was relatively substantial inflation rate going as high as 17%, and the overall cost of the manufacturing of all sorts has gone up, as well, especially due to the energy crisis that has hit Europe as a consequence of the war in Ukraine. So, I believe that Czech Republic is nowadays seeing quite a slowdown in its economy. It’s not in a depression or a recession, but the thing is that the war has driven the local market has now basically disappeared or is slowly but definitely disappearing.
Unfortunately, the governments, the past governments and the current government, doesn’t invest enough in research and development and in more advanced technologies. So, I think that we will see this kind of stagnation of the markets at least until the end of this year. Maybe it will have an impact for the next year, as well. So, it is still quite, I would say, stable market to do business at, but it’s no more so advantages in terms of cost and in terms of taxation and in terms of all kinds of governmental incentives. Geographically, it’s still well-placed in the very middle of Europe, but all the other aspects are not so advantageous anymore as they used to be in the past decades.
Obviously, it impacts our clients. Some of our clients are, if they have really small operations, small branches in our country, in the process of closing down. We have also seen the influence of the layoffs that the huge technology companies, such as Google and others, have faced in the US and the UK. So, we have seen the impacts also in our market, although the numbers are much smaller, of course. And what is significant in our country, because it is so much oriented to automotive industry, there is a great shift to electromobility. So basically all the, not only the car manufacturers themselves, but also all the supply chain, all the suppliers are basically switching their operations towards the electromobility. I’m not commenting on whether it is sustainable or not, but that’s the trend, definitely. So, the clients that are basically active in electromobility and all sorts of businesses related thereto, they’re flourishing at the moment.
Lindsay: I don’t want to ask you to comment on that, but do you see that continuing over the next 5 to 10 years?
Pavla: I think 5 years might be realistic, but 10 years I would doubt. Me, personally, I don’t think it’s the right way, because if you see the competitiveness globally, not only within in Europe, but globally, I think the whole bubble around electromobility is relatively short sight, I will say, vision.
Lindsay: Yes, yes.
Pavla: But the thing is that the Chinese, they are quite competitive in actual ability. So, they might be the drivers of this industry, of related industries, in Europe. I don’t know about the US, but to some extent in Europe, yes. But I don’t think that it’s the path to follow really on the long term.
Lindsay: I would agree with that. I would agree. What do you think is the biggest area either related to your practice or the legal industry in general that you’re most curious about?
Pavla: Technologies. Certainly, all kinds of technologies. That’s an area that is growing, that is very active. I think that a big boost has been actually given to this sector paradoxically during the COVID pandemic, because all the whole world turned online basically. So even those who were not disposed so much to use technologies, they were forced to. So, I think that was really a big booster in this sector. And Czech Republic in this respect, I would say is a good hub for Western countries, be it UK, be it Benelux, being then even overseas in the US. So, a lot of technology startups use Czech Republic as the first place where to try it, where to test it, and then if they’re successful, they move forward, further West. So, the startup scene, I would say, is quite active, probably not in terms of volumes, but in terms of innovative ideas, really.
The incentives that are being given by all kinds of startup accelerators, even some governmental agencies that support startup companies are quite, I would say, well-placed and quite efficient in the hub to this sector. So, technology certainly is the sector that is, for me, very interesting to follow. And obviously always the traditional sector such as real estate, because that’s one of the areas where I started my practice, and that’s kind of a sector that sometimes a bit slower, sometimes it’s really growing and it’s very vibrant, but it’s moving and turning around all the time. And we can see in Prague that despite all the practical obstacles and the expense and the administrative difficulties within the construction permitting processes, it is still quite an active market in terms of residential and commercial premises. So certainly, real estate, and as I’ve said, industrial sectors related to electromobility and also chemical industry, they are quite… And in chemical and even in agriculture, there are new trends using AI, using all kinds of technologies, for a more efficient agriculture production. So, it’s interesting, I mean technology driven usually, but very interesting to see.
Lindsay: Yes, it’s interesting to see how many industries are being driven by technology and efficiencies are happening all over across every industry these days. And it’s just, I think a lot of things are going to change in the next 10 to 15 years. And obviously a lot of things have changed over the past 10 to 15 years. So, I think technology will just accelerate that even more, which is what it does.
Pavla: Certainly. And I think that for this part of Europe, obviously it’s quite difficult to say at this particular moment, but we believe that there will be a big goal and growth once the war in Ukraine is over, because these countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, we’ll see based on their political orientation to come, but these three countries that I’ve named, I think will be very active in the postwar reconstruction of Ukraine, which will create a lot of outlets for all kinds of businesses. And I think even Western businesses that would be involved in the reconstruction, they will have to be based somewhere close, but not necessarily right away in Ukraine itself. So, we might see some development and some turnaround in this respect once it is over.
Lindsay: Absolutely. I would agree with that. Yes, because especially I know from a Western perspective, there’s I think a lot of interest in the Eastern part of Europe in wanting to support Ukraine and, as you say, maybe not directly in Ukraine when the war is over, but in the surrounding countries to put money into Ukraine and build more industry there.
Switching gears, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Pavla: Well, I would start with something that people usually know about me. As you know, as well, I’m a passionate skier, I’m a swimmer, I’m a biker, but maybe not many people know that I’m also a very passionate Argentine tango dancer. So that’s one of the things that I might say about myself.
Lindsay: Yes, that usually surprises people that you a lot of times are going off at the end of the night to go and do some dancing.
Pavla: Yes, that’s the Argentine tango thing.
Lindsay: That’s right. That’s right. And how long have you been doing that? It’s been quite a while now.
Pavla: It’s been way over 10 years.
Lindsay: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s really fun. I love that. I love that. Who has been your biggest mentor over your career?
Pavla: I would say I haven’t had really, or I cannot speak about anyone being really a mentor, but I would say that I had a couple of people that inspired me with their personal stance, personal approach, the consistence of their opinions, persistence in what they were doing. But definitely one of the inspirational people was one lawyer in France when I was still studying in France and I was working as a student, as a law clerk in his office.
He used to be a basketball player, a professional basketball player, and then he decided to study law and to become an attorney. So, he was very supportive saying if people want to do something and they have the support from someone in their surroundings, I really appreciate the kind of effort and the vocation for their objectives or their dreams, maybe. So, this was a good example for me that even being from a totally different field of activity, you can become a lawyer and be a good lawyer if you really want to, and you have the support of your surroundings. So that was inspiration for me.
Then in terms of the, let’s say, humanitarian and overall human, let’s say, dimension of not only lawyering, but the overall approach to life, was certainly someone who was a well-known feature in Czech Republic during the Velvet Revolution. He’s called Simon Panek. He is one of the founders and a director of the biggest NGO and nonprofit organization that was founded in Czech Republic, but nowadays, it operates in all Europe and in many countries across the world.
The NGO is called People in Need, and they are really based on the kind of humanism, freedom, equality, solidarity ideas. And this person who leads the organization has always been a very concise and very kind person that would not really push back on any principles that this organization has set, and himself personally has set for him and for the organization. That’s the kind of, I would say, lighthouse very often in difficult situations which might occur in today’s world. I won’t name them, but you can imagine.
Then in terms of protection of human rights and equality and even human dignity, I would say, a big inspiration for me is also Amal Clooney. She is an English barrister and human rights lawyer, not only known because of her husband, but she’s been known before she married him. So, she’s been an inspiration for me, and especially when I heard some of her speeches and her public appearances. She’s also active in the IBA, International Bar Association, and Human Rights Council. These are the inspirational people, I would say.
Lindsay: Wonderful. That’s really wonderful. Those are some great people to follow. What would you say most people misunderstand about your field of work?
Pavla: Well, I can speak only for the perception of lawyers in the Czech Republic, because I don’t have that detailed knowledge about the other countries. But I would say that a very frequent misunderstanding about the lawyer’s work in general is that people believe that we have all the documents stored in some drawers or storages, and everything is just a template. So, we just take out a template X, Y, Z from the right drawer or from the left one, and we just fill in some of the details, and that’s it. It’s sometimes very difficult to explain that it has to be tailor-made to their proper situation and takes time. There are not templates for everything.
Another misunderstanding that I always come across when I do especially acquisition or M&A’s and acquisition, is the fact that the lawyers do not need to have the information about the context. Even if you are drafting a commercial contract, the clients very often think that they are just telling you what the subject should be, what should be the price, and some of the conditions, and that’s it. And if I ask for the context and for some background information there, some of the clients are really surprised, some of them are even a bit nervous or a bit angry, why should I know that? Why do I need to know that? And I usually have to explain that to well structure and tailor the relationship, to well structure the contract, we need to know the context, and we need to have the background information. And this is something that I’ve been coming across during all those years of my practice.
Lindsay: Wow. It is really interesting that no matter how long lawyers have been around, people still don’t understand that they’re really there for the protection of the client.
Pavla: Yes. I believe that there might be various reasons for that, but I think some of the clients just want you to spend more time reading more information or getting more information, because they think that the clock is ticking.
Lindsay: Right. And the longer you spend, the more time you spend upfront, the less time you have to spend eventually fixing mistakes that have been made because you didn’t have the information that you needed upfront.
Pavla: Exactly. And my favorite is really, “I drafted the contract myself. It’s very easy. I have just downloaded some template from the internet, and I filled in the information and that’s it. But now I have a trouble. Could you sort it out, please?” And then I have to say, “Well, there are plenty of things that are missing, and your situation is not that strong to be successful in court in case it goes before court,” so…
Lindsay: Oh, no. It’s amazing.
Pavla: It’s always the same.
Lindsay: As I often say on this podcast, the one thing I learned over and over again is to bring in lawyers early and often.
Pavla: Yes. That’s what I always say, especially if you’re trading. General terms of conditions might be useful. Or if you don’t have them, just read those that will be applicable from your counterpart so that you know where you go if something gets wrong. As long as everything goes well, that’s fine, that’s ideal, but life is not always ideal.
Lindsay: Right, right. What if it doesn’t? Exactly. Exactly. What does be part of the ILN mean to you?
Pavla: For me, it’s to be part of a great selection of professionals from all over the world that I would’ve probably never met if I hadn’t been a part of the ILN. A great bonus is that over all those years of my involvement in the ILN, it has been 20 years, 21, maybe, a lot of them became real friends. So, this is something that I consider really a blessing and a great bonus. When I became for certain number of years a member of the board of directors, it was, for me, essentially a service towards the network and to the membership just to be able to contribute to make something better or to get the organization going in a more structured way. And when I was elected the chair of the board three years ago, three and a couple of months, for me, it was a great honor and a sort of recognition of my involvement within the network.
I believe that I’ve mentioned that when I was elected at that time, that my primary goal is to help the organization not only to navigate the then very difficult period of time of the pandemic, but to help the organization to be more structured, more efficient, and to be more purposeful or useful, maybe, for the membership so that the members will be able to have more out of it. The flip side is obviously that for this, it’s not only me, you, the executive committee and the board of directors itself, but it’s essentially the membership that needs to be involved, as well, because we cannot do it for them. They have to be involved. And the level of reward or outcome, or how you call it, from the network is very much corresponding and depending on the level and amount of involvement of the members themselves.
Lindsay: It’s very true. Absolutely. To wrap up, what is one thing separate from work and the ILN that you are enjoying right now?
Pavla: Difficult to say, but I’m really enjoying the possibility to have some kind of impact, be it within the ILN that is linked to the ILN, but also within the diversity and inclusion activities that I have. So that’s on the professional level, and entirely outside the professional field, I’m really enjoying being a mother of two adolescent kids.
Lindsay: Yes, that’s tough. That’s a really tough, great role.
Pavla: It’s demanding, but it’s rewarding at the same time.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Yes. Being a mother at all is a really important role, but kids, man, whoo, they’re a challenge, but it is really rewarding.
Lindsay: Well, thank you very much, Pavla. I really appreciate you joining us today. And to all of our listeners, we’ll be back next week with our next guest. So please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, and thank you very much.
Pavla: Thank you. Thank you, Lindsay, for having me. It was a real pleasure.