Virginia Murray is a partner in Watson Farley & Williams’ International Project & Structured Finance Group and is Head of the Greek law Corporate, Projects and Finance practice in the firm’s Athens office. She graduated from Cambridge in 1989 and moved to Greece and qualified as a Greek lawyer in 1998. She is fluent in Greek.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current role with Watson, Farley & Williams.
Virginia: I was born and brought up in the UK. I studied law at Cambridge University and qualified as a barrister, and I worked mainly as a criminal barrister on the Oxford & Midland Circuit for five years before I moved to Greece in 1997 after my marriage to my husband, whom I had met when he was a PhD student in London (the Greek phrase is that I am a “romantic migrant”). I worked at a Greek law firm, Rokas & Partners, where I qualified as a Greek lawyer under the QLTT exams and became a partner before moving to WFW in 2007 together with a small team to set up the Greek-law capacity in the firm’s Athens office.
CEELM: Was it always your goal to work abroad?
Virginia: I have always enjoyed travelling, but the Bar doesn’t really provide much travel opportunities. It was certainly one of the things that attracted me to commercial transaction work both at Rokas & Partners, which has offices across the Balkans, and later at WFW.
CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years.
Virginia: Whilst at Rokas & Partners I was able to see a wide range of commercial law matters, but also – along with their signature insurance practice – from 1999 my fellow WFW partner Marisetta Marcopoulou and I built up one of Greece’s earliest sponsor-side renewable energy finance and corporate practices, and we’ve held a significant market share ever since. Since then – and in particular since we joined WFW and had the full benefit of the international reach and specialist sectoral skills for which WFW is known – I’ve broadened the team and the practice into a wide range of project, acquisition, and asset financing and corporate transactions across the energy and infrastructure sector. The Greek-law team at WFW now handles banking, finance, real estate, litigation, energy, infrastructure, shipping and a wide range of commercial and corporate issues.
CEELM: While we’ve got you, we may as well ask … what’s your perspective on the current state of the Greek economy and its prospects for 2019 and 2020?
Virginia: Generally, I think there’s a real sense of optimism in the Greek market, not just in the energy sector, which is very hot right now, but across the market. The development of the former airport site at Hellinikon (a deal very close to my heart, as we acted for the privatization agency on the sale back in 2012-2014) will also make a big difference not only to real jobs for Athenians, but also for the country’s public image as a safe place for investment.
CEELM: How would clients describe your style?
Virginia: Determined, to the point, and proactive, I’d like to think. I also like to think that their counterparties also trust me to achieve a fair result.
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the English and Greek judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
Virginia: I do not litigate, and it is in civil and criminal procedure that the key differences lie; the court system in Greece is undergoing great change, but I still think that the common-law system is far more effective at getting down to the substantial factual issues and delivering a just result. I still find the lack of a really rigorous verbal cross-examination in court perplexing – as a barrister, I know how much closer you can get to the truth if you can properly test a witness (whether a witness to fact or an expert).
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
Virginia: Greek law firms run on a more personal (and less corporate) basis than international law firms; my colleagues at Rokas & Partners were extremely patient and kind when I joined as a monoglot English barrister who had to learn an entirely new legal system from scratch. I think that international firms may have the edge at creating a more meritocratic system; having said that, the larger Greek firms have made massive strides in adopting international corporate systems and now operate to high organizational and governance standards.
CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
Virginia: For foreign investors, they have the comfort of a fellow foreigner who is able to explain the particularities of the local market, and able to negotiate with Greek counterparties (loudly) in Greek on their behalf. For our Greek clients, I can represent them to foreign clients and perhaps the fact that I am not Greek helps bridge differences during the negotiation process.
CEELM: Do you have any plans to move back to England?
Virginia: My elder son is about to start university in the UK, so I will certainly be visiting more often! But Greece is now my home.
CEELM: Outside of Greece, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most?
Virginia: I have a very good friend from Serbia, and have very fond memories of the country.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Athens?
Virginia: Anywhere with an Acropolis view. The Athens city center has bloomed during the last five or so years and there are a wealth of great places to eat and drink. Out of the center, of course, it’s really easy to get to the beach, which is one of the delights of living in Athens. At WFW, we hold an annual “Kalamaraki Night,” when the whole firm goes for seafood and drinks at a little tavern literally on the beach, only about half an hour from the office. Beat that, London!
This Article was originally published in Issue 6.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.