Legal life in... Ukraine
Arthur Nitsevych, Managing Partner at Interlegal (International law offices), one of the Ukrainian leading law firms, talks about legal life in Ukraine.
1. How did you come to be a lawyer?
After the school I entered the University to study foreign languages. But in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR I decided to change my profile and started to study Law. My first working experience turned to be very important for my career. I worked as a part-time interpreter within a law firm in Odessa. This was one of the first independent law firms in the region. You probably know that in the Soviet Union times there were no business lawyers. There was no property at that time; so, lawyers serviced mainly only private issues – employment, family, civil and criminal. Thus, I found in practice from the very beginning that business law was going to be a very interesting field for my choice.
2. What can you tell us about your firm?
After a couple of years of training and working as a lawyer together with a colleague we decided to create a law firm focused on servicing foreign clients. Our idea was to combine the knowledge of foreign languages and culture with the knowledge of the legislation. Foreign clients feel lack of reliable people. For them Ukraine is a challenge and surely they want to feel here safe and confident. Our office in Odessa was opened in 1995; in 1997 we opened our practice also in the capital of Ukraine – Kiev. Since then, we gradually came to our main specialization which is Transport, Shipping and International Trade.
3. Have you worked as a lawyer in other countries than Ukraine?
We don’t have offices abroad but we managed to build up the network of associated offices, first, of all, in those countries with which there’s a regular turnover – mainly in Europe and CIS. Being an assistant for foreign clients and colleagues in recognition of business reality in ex-USSR countries (Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Georgia, etc.), on the one hand, and guide for local clients entering the foreign markets, on the other hand, brought interesting experience and understanding of difference in legal and business culture. It takes time to accept best international practice and experience. But nevertheless “local colour” continues to exist. People say that everyone can read local laws but you need to be local to read them properly.
4. What are the main challenges and opportunities for Ukrainian firms as the legal services market becomes increasingly globalised?
The Ukrainian legal market is quite developed. Ukraine has population of about 45 Million people and territory of 603,628 km², making it the largest contiguous country on the European continent. But law firms are predominantly situated in Kiev and some big cities. It is not likely that many of them are ready to expand into regions. Another trend is related to the legislative development of the Ukrainian state. Obviously, the new team that came to power in 2010 has its own vision on the development of Ukraine, which naturally has an impact on state policy. Consequently, significant changes in the legal environment are expected. So, the Ukrainian legal market continues its structuring, becoming more competitive and niche.
5. What advice would you give to UK law firms new to Ukraine?
Unlike in Russia there are not many foreign law firms which opened offices in Ukraine. Partly, this is due to specifics of the Ukrainian institutional development, partly because of fear to be engaged in corruption. Thus, in the immediate future, it is most likely that outsourcing will be further developed by UK law firms with clients and cases related to Ukraine. We are engaged on and on by UK law firms and solicitors on arbitration matters, trade contracts (especially, GAFTA, FOSFA, etc.) and shipping cases.
6. What opportunities for cooperation are there between Ukrainian and UK law firms?
There’s another prospect for cooperation between UK and Ukrainian law firms. It is enhanced partnership between law firms in different projects for producing more benefit for their clients. Let’s take, for example, use of English law. Many international contracts are treated by English law. So, Ukrainian lawyers together with their English colleagues can be very helpful to clients in drafting and maintenance of trade and investment contracts, arbitration and resolving disputes.
7. Finally, what are your recommendations for visitors to Ukraine?
Ukraine is neither an easy nor a difficult country to work in. Nor are its working practices especially unique either. Once you get past any initial barriers, you can conduct business here as you would in any other country in the world. Since 1991, after 70 years of effective rule from Moscow, Ukraine has managed its own affairs, avoiding the chaos and instability that have affected other nations faced with a similar predicament. Corruption exists, as it does everywhere, although that to be found in Ukraine is a reflection of the former status the country had within the Soviet Union. Ukraine has impressive economic growth, its national currency is stable and there is both industrial and agrarian growth. Reform in Ukraine is now inevitable, so don’t be too put off by who may or may not be leading the country. Nevertheless, when doing business here, it makes sense to spend money on consulting lawyers and industry experts, asking clear questions. In the long run this will save you money. Every year in early June we hold an international conference in Odessa dedicated to Transport, Shipping and Trade issues collecting some 150 business professionals from some 15 European countries. It is called ‘Sharing experience’. Visit Ukraine and share your experience!Author: Arthur Nitsevych