Interview with the Partners of the New NGL Symbio Alliance.
CEELM: Tell us about the NGL Symbio alliance, and when it will become fully operational.
Roman: NGL Symbio – in simple words – is an alliance of five legal practices: Rowan Legal in the Czech Republic, NGL Legal in Poland, Erdos Katona in Hungary, HKV in Slovakia, and Biris Goran in Romania. We will be officially operational starting January 2021, although the preparations and discussions concerning its creation have been going on for some time now.
Krzysztof: NGL Symbio is the answer to market needs, and, at the same time, an innovative organization. We see the great interest of clients operating in the CEE region in obtaining coordinated services at a uniformly high level. Both large multinational corporations and local companies considering expansion are looking for forms of legal support other than those that have been offered to them so far by different law firms (i.e., a country-by-country service), or integrated international networks. Companies are now looking for new and more effective cooperation models. In some law firms operating in individual CE countries, there is a need to coordinate efforts to serve these clients at a supra-national level. NGL Symbio is a solution: an alliance of law firms, which at the national level retain their existing independence and provide clients with integrated services of high quality.
CEELM: Why did you decide to put the alliance together – what value will it add to its members?
Krzysztof: The idea of creating an alliance of independent law firms based on shared values and a simple organizational structure has been maturing in me for some time. While at my previous firm, I observed the rapid growth of the CEE market for legal services and the changes taking place there (e.g., some international law firms leaving the market, attempts to strengthen local practices by expanding, and the activity of regional firms from Germany or Austria). In my opinion, it is an excellent time to implement a new, transparent, and straightforward solution – to better serve our clients and provide the feeling of being part of a larger family. That was our approach from the beginning, and our partners in the region shared it.
Michal: We like the idea of joining forces to provide high-quality legal advice in CEE and a strong focus on winning new work and on doing what is necessary to attract it. Seasoned experts drive the member firms, whom we trust. We also enjoy transparent and honest communication among members.
Krzysztof: I am delighted with what my partners have said. Regardless of the hard work and packed calendar, we have a lot of reasons to be satisfied. Hence it is no coincidence that in our Rules of Cooperation there is a point stating: “The Parties shall make their commercially reasonable best efforts to have some fun along with the development of NGL Symbio project.”
CEELM: Krzysztof, the alliance shares its name with your firm. Does this mean NGL Legal has a primary managerial or administrative role in it?
Paulina: Allow me to jump in. Grupa NGL appears in the project in two ways: through NGL Legal – the initiator and partner of NGL Symbio – and through NGL Services, supporting the project from the operational side. For several years now, Poland has been the primary destination in CEE for shared services centers built by international businesses. The NGL Services team was responsible for setting up an operational support facilities for one of the global law firms from scratch, and running it for close to three years. This experience was invaluable when we were establishing the NGL Group. We relied not only on lawyers and tax advisors, but also on a strong management team with significant experience in running large international structures. The team’s experience and its easy scalability allowed NGL Symbio to be built from the beginning in line with large law firm operational standards. It also determines the innovation and attractiveness of our project.
Krzysztof: This solution has another vital feature; the clearly defined scope of support provided by NGL Services translates into a transparent system for allocating the operating costs of NGL Symbio. However, apart from the operational aspects mentioned by Paulina and the fact that the initiator of the idea was NGL Legal, our partners entrusted me with the function of the first MP of NGL Symbio, while Paulina is its COO. For all these reasons, our alliance started operating under this brand. Nevertheless, even at this initial stage, we have set up a discussion on rebranding down the road. The need to modify the name eventually may, for example, be related to the development of different regional service lines (such as tax concerns, though this example is not exclusive).
CEELM: How did you identify and select the other members of the alliance? Do you expect the alliance to grow in the months and years to come?
Gabor: Yes, more and more companies operating in this region are looking for law firms that can serve their needs on a regional level. We are sure that our smooth operation and exceptional legal advising quality will bring us more and more opportunities. Quality never goes out of fashion.
Roman: I think the main component in choosing the members of this alliance was a similar background and working culture. We had, in some cases, already established a good working relationship based on positive experiences in the past. One of the alliance’s main goals is reliability in providing services, so it is only natural to invite firms that you have worked with previously. As for the alliance’s growth, it is essential to establish ourselves as a reliable partner in the CEE region first so that we do not take on too many challenges too quickly. After that, I do believe there is ample room to grow.
Michal: We do expect growth in terms of members and the amount of international work in the CEE region and adjacent countries (e.g., the Baltics, Balkans, and Adriatics). We have collectively identified several key practices, industries, and initiatives across our five firms to support that growth. The goal is to integrate our experts across the region, exchange know-how and expertise, and set up relevant offerings for our clients in the region. On January 1, 2021, we are starting with the first six – the Banking & Finance, Corporate M&A practices, the Real Estate and Energy industries, and, finally, the Cannabis Law and Investigations initiatives. We will be launching new ones on a quarterly basis.
Gelu: Exactly. We bring extensive experience in multijurisdictional projects to NGL Symbio. We have had the opportunity to work with many teams in the region. This should result in further geographical development, especially as several potential partners have already expressed interest in establishing cooperation. We will certainly be able to provide more information on the subject in 2021.
CEELM: In the first few months since the alliance’s creation, has it worked on any major cross-border or multi-jurisdictional deals or other client matters you can share with us?
Krzysztof: We are already carrying out several cross-border projects, and we have dozens of inquiries and information about our services, but please remember: NGL Symbio officially starts operating on January 1, 2021. I must admit that we often had to repeat this to ourselves, because, on the one hand, we are working with ambitious people – we wanted to implement as much as possible before this cut-off date. On the other hand, we knew very well how great a challenge it is to quickly promote a new brand on a particular market – in this case, the legal services market.
CEELM: You’ve obviously launched NGL Symbio in unique and challenging times. Has the ongoing Covid-19 crisis effected the process at all, or in any way limited the early effectiveness of the alliance?
Gabor: To the contrary. COVID-19 has changed many things on the legal market and brought new challenges, and the law firms able to give better answers to these challenges will benefit the most. The fact that we are starting our operation during such challenging times has allowed us to form our alliance in an appropriate way.
Roman: I think it is fair to say that you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been at least partially negatively affected by the challenging circumstances, and we are no different in these difficult times. However, I do believe that this early setback will motivate us to push ourselves even more once the situation is under control.
Krzysztof: When assessing the impact of the current situation on our project, I have two thoughts. First, I feel that we have not wasted this time: during the first wave, we started selecting partners and then adopted an Action Plan with them. During the second wave, regardless of the current customer service climate, we consistently implemented the Action Plan. Second, like many of our clients, we are trying to anticipate the post-Covid economy. Being stuck mentally in the situation we see outside the window does not move us forward. We see 2021 as an excellent opportunity for alliance partners and NGL Symbio as a whole. And we wish all your readers such a balanced/reasonable optimism for 2021. Warm regards to all and keep your fingers crossed for us.