The legal landscape has changed remarkably since 2008 when I made the jump from being an in-house lawyer at the Central Bank of Albania to a legal associate at a law firm. At the time, for a lawyer working in two small-sized non-EU countries such as Albania and Kosovo, work was predominantly focused on the local markets, with no or little exposure to international activities. This started to change as the CEE region became more attractive to foreign investors, who were looking at opportunities often spread across several countries. The legal work in M&A, privatization processes, and energy investments often involved teams from various law firms, both in CEE and in Western Europe or the US, and was my gateway to gaining knowledge of the regional market and understanding the space for growth there.
Almost 15 years later, looking back, I am amazed by the development of legal practice in the CEE region. However, in the last decade, important changes have shaken – in a positive way, I would dare say – the legal market worldwide, not only in CEE.
One of the most important shifts I see is that of market participants. Over the years, we have witnessed reputable partners and teams changing firms, new firms being created, and international players reducing their presence in the region and pulling out of certain markets. In addition, the law firms associated with the Big Four have thrived and set up a firm footprint. As a reaction to market consolidation, the networks of small independent local firms are on the rise. Such organizations have been more and more active, aiming to establish an efficient network across the region, to ensure they can represent clients in multiple geographies.
In addition, technology has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives – both private and business – and has changed the way we work with each other and with our clients. COVID-19, despite its dark side, further accelerated the development and application of technology solutions in legal practice. Cooperation across borders became more feasible and effective, making national borders less significant. New working models such as virtual secondments, staff exchange, cross-country assignments and teams have emerged and are here to stay. More Western European companies are looking at the region as a suitable location for their shared services centers. These developments have made it easier for lawyers in smaller jurisdictions to gain international exposure and access to knowledge and assignments.
Changing clients’ needs are another significant factor reshaping lawyering, globally. Clients today are more focused on tailored multi-disciplinary solutions that address the complex business challenges they face. Companies have easier access to global opportunities and work more often across borders to achieve growth. This has made it critical for law firms to be able to offer an international perspective and support clients in their cross-border activities. In addition, company leaders are looking at ways to utilize data-driven insights and gain efficiencies through technology. For the legal practice – technology has come to stay – and I expect that clients’ needs for innovative solutions will continue to grow.
Finally, the political arena has a significant impact on cooperation across the CEE legal market. With the EU expansion towards the southern part of Europe, cross-border cooperation in CEE will see a boost, as the new candidate countries and those soon-to-be candidates will be in need of experienced legal advice from countries that have recently walked the same path.
15 years after I started my journey in private practice, I see the market has undergone a tremendous positive change. Legal professionals, especially the younger ones, enjoy many opportunities for professional growth, different career paths within the legal sector, and cross-border experience. Beyond the traditional areas of M&A, privatizations, PPPs, and real estate investments, new areas such as digital, AI, environment, and new financial products attract the interest of legal professionals and offer opportunities for development, nationally and internationally.
I am truly glad and thrilled to be part of, and witness firsthand, these transformative years for the legal market in CEE and I am excited about the future of the legal profession in a more interconnected and technologically advanced landscape.
By Sabina Lalaj, Local Legal Partner, Deloitte Legal Albania & Kosovo
This Article was originally published in Issue 9.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.