More than 15 years ago, when I graduated from law school in Romania, there were few opportunities for a young lawyer. You could either be an apprentice for a senior lawyer, your ‘master’ as they were called, trying to ‘steal know-how’ from anywhere you could, or, for the luckier ones, you could be employed by one of the only two business consulting law firms that were on the market – a national one and the only international law firm – Linklaters. I was one of the lucky ones. I passed my bar exam and started working as a junior lawyer in the latter. And thus, my journey as a CEE lawyer began.
The legal climate in CEE was vastly different at the time. First, there were just a few international firms in the region, such as Linklaters, White & Case, CMS, etc., so getting a job as a young lawyer in one of these firms was ‘a big deal.’ For me, this was the best school I could have possibly asked for. I still remember that I was a newbie in the office when I was assigned to draft the Regulatory Chapter for a privatization project for a large bank, even though I had never heard of such things before in law school.
I started the project without knowing what I was getting into, but that’s what made things interesting in this field: I was always supposed to search, discover, and learn new things. Maybe it’s difficult to imagine nowadays, but there was no easy way to Google everything at the time. We all had to go to the library and take out each Official Journal, internal records, or files, and search by hand for any relevant piece of legislation or precedent. Still, I was always excited to check off points on my to-do lists, I was continuously learning, and I always got new challenges to overcome. And there was no better schooling than being involved in cross-countries projects.
Those were times when young graduates had many chances to make a difference in their lives. All international law firms wanted to teach them business law at high standards, to shape them instead of choosing already experienced lawyers. It was a ‘challenging’ time for everyone, as laws were changing a lot, the European Union was expanding a lot, new treaties were signed, and the whole world was moving quickly towards the Europeanization of legislation. And then the magic happened: Romania joined the EU and the borders opened not only for traveling but also for working anywhere in Europe. It was great for a young lawyer like me to be given the opportunity to travel to Linklaters offices in Europe and learn from lawyers with lots of experience and a different perspective. What I learned from my CEE experience is that a broad vision and the capacity to discover things where others see nothing is what makes a good lawyer. It is the capacity to see a project from different jurisdictions’ perspectives and integrate them into one outcome suitable for the client. The legal marketplace was in its early stages back then, but it was a good beginning with big cross-border transactions and privatizations.
Today, the region has evolved a lot – many of those trained by the top legal firms ended up with their own firms and a reputable client base, so now the legal market consists of many well-known mid-sized law firms built from scratch in the past years. There is now healthy competition and there are more opportunities on the market. Many CEE lawyers’ networks have been established, opening the chance to work on an integrated basis on multijurisdictional projects. And there are no borders from here.
When I think about the roots of today’s CEE legal field, I feel I have lived through a unique time with professionals from all over Europe, who imported and adapted concepts from different law systems to national legal systems. These were people who made a real difference in today’s legal field and who helped us all become who we are today.
The new generation of young lawyers, building their way up into the CEE legal market, has many opportunities nowadays and chances to work up a name in this field, within a well-developed and diverse private practice or in-house market, having great mentors trained by top multinational law firms.
By Iulia Berea, Partner, Arcliffe