On February 8, 2021, CEE Legal Matters reported that Oliver Koppany and Csaba Rusznak had joined KNP Law Nagy-Koppany Lencs & Partners in Budapest. Rusznak will lead the firm’s Dispute Resolution Practice Group, while Koppany, who joined as Foreign Legal Counsel, is preparing to take over the management of the firm from his mother, KNP Law Founder and Managing Partner Kornelia Nagy-Koppany. We spoke with Koppany and Rusznak to learn more about their background and plans for the future.
CEELM: Tell us a bit about KNP.
Oliver: KNP started 15 years ago and is an independent international law firm in Hungary, with a team of about 20 people. It was started by the same three Partners we have today: Kornelia Nagy-Koppany, Laszlo Lencs, and Timea Fuzessy Maglics. As a child, I would go down to the firm’s offices after school, and I noticed that what started as one small office on a floor with four other offices kept spreading. Eventually, office by office, KNP had taken over the entire floor.
We have had a long, stable, and successful history so far and the goal from here on is to focus on expansion and growth.
CEELM: What would you identify as the highlights of your careers, leading up to today?
Oliver: When I was in high school and told my mother that I wanted to become a lawyer she insisted I get a US education. I went to Suffolk University in Boston and then the American University Washington College of Law in DC.
During my studies, I spent a bit over a year with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, with the tremendous David Mortlock as my mentor. He taught me how to work with people – I owe a lot to him. He really breaks the mold of the old way of thinking that associates must suffer on their way to the top. His approach was always respectful, caring, and that of being a guiding hand – something that I really wish to emulate at KNP.
During my undergraduate studies in Boston, I also worked at Foley & Lardner, where I worked for Chris McKenna. He was fantastic in helping me understand how to develop new business opportunities and think outside the box. I know it is a tall order to ask for everyone that walks through our doors to be happy and excited for the unique challenges each day presents, but that would be my goal.
Csaba: I was born in Hungary in the mid-1980s, and in the early 1990s my parents went to London for what they thought was going to be six months, to “experience life in the West.” That became eight years, and then eventually, in 1999, we moved to the United States. I studied foreign relations at Georgetown University and went to Vanderbilt University Law School after that. In 2012, I joined the international law firm of Arnold & Porter, where I spent most of my time doing international arbitration work – both in the firm’s Washington D.C. and London offices.
In 2018, I started my own independent practice – Sovereign Arbitration Advisors. It was a bit of a new model, with me being essentially an independent practitioner. I typically work either with other practitioners or law firms, putting together the most appropriate team for each engagement. I think that the collaboration and partnership with KNP is a fantastic example of the type of additive value that someone with my flexible platform can bring. My D.C. platform will continue its existence, but I will be spending a lot more time in Hungary.
CEELM: What drew you to KNP in particular?
Csaba: There was real professional chemistry, ever since my first meeting with Oliver. We are both Hungarian, but we have also had significant experience in the U.S., which means that we understand each other on many levels. We place the same value on excellence and on building solid, long-term relationships. We understand each other instinctively. As for our collaboration, we started to understand that if we could bring our assets and experience together, there would be a real opportunity for all of us to grow, both in terms of business opportunities and as professionals.
CEELM: What is on the agenda for the first couple of years for you both?
Csaba: The first thing is to make sure that the integration goes well. Our primary focus is making sure that the firm’s existing clients are able to tap into the new capability that I bring. International arbitration, ADR, transnational litigation, but more than that – my network around the world and my relationships. Although my primary area is dispute resolution, I will be helping the firm whenever I can in any and all matters as the relationship evolves.
Oliver: The firm is well known for our Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences practice. The pandemic has been challenging – and we have had to deal with this head-on. Part of that was addressing the new client concerns presented by the unprecedented situation that most of us have not seen in our lifetimes.
We are also heavily focused on labor and employment matters, in addition to real estate concerns, which again, due to the pandemic, involved some unique legal obstacles, which were challenging, but also extremely rewarding to work hand-in-hand with our clients on. Our team has done a phenomenal job navigating these unique and challenging times. Moving forward, our objective is to continue to focus on our clients and provide them with the quality of service they know and expect from us.
We are also expanding, not only in size, but in practice areas, where we are launching some which our firm has previously not had – such as Arbitration and White Collar Criminal Defense. Considering a large portion of our firm, including the founding partners, is the same since as it was at our inception 15 years ago, we are focused on organic and strategic growth in the long-term.
CEELM: Since you mentioned the pandemic, how do you feel things have changed since early 2020?
Oliver: Just like everyone else, we had to adapt quickly. Over the years, we have built extremely strong relationships with our clients, and we had to make sure we could continue to build and strengthen these relationships in alternative ways, including much more video conferencing! We have always made sure that everyone on our team is equipped with the best technology, so in that sense the transition from the office to the work-from-home setting was smooth and seamless.
Csaba: I should add that, as much as it has taken from us, the pandemic has given back, in a way. The world has flattened significantly, and people are much more willing to embrace electronic communications, whereas in the past they may have insisted on meeting in conference rooms, or over a formal meal. We have been invited into each other’s homes, met their children, and shared stories of frustration and challenges. It has had the cumulative effect of increasing intimacy, and in a way, it has brought forth an increase in human trust.
The pandemic has also compressed the time necessary for productive conversations with clients, allowing us – and them – to come to faster decisions. Now, you can have a meeting over Zoom almost immediately, instead of needing to wait six months until the next time you are all together in a particular region.
CEELM: Oliver, the long-term plan is for you to take over the reins of the firm. How are you planning to carry out that transition?
Oliver: I have thought about this question quite a lot. Succession is an important topic for us in 2021. Right now, I am at the early stages of this process, which involves learning and absorbing everything I possibly can, not just as it relates to my job as an attorney, but as it relates to the daily, monthly, and yearly tasks of managing a law firm. I have some big shoes to fill, but I have been preparing for this since middle school when I decided I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps. I wish I could tell you that we have a concrete five-year plan, but the truth is we don’t. A transition like this must be organic, and we have to make sure our team and our clients have the proper time to become familiar with the change, and that the partners of the firm are comfortable with it. Once everyone is aware of it and is comfortable with it, and when I am ready – the change can be made.
With that said, there is no one else who is emotionally more invested with purer intentions than I am, given that KNP was started by my mother, and I need to make sure that the future of the firm is built on the values she instilled in me and that she has built KNP on. I have a lot to learn, but I am delighted about all the great possibilities, the incredible client base, and the amazing team we have at KNP.
CEELM: What are the firm’s main strengths at the moment that you are looking to build upon?
Oliver: We currently have some 15 practice areas. We have already widened our focus to include data protection and privacy, white collar crime and cyber law, and now, thanks to Csaba, dispute resolution as well, in addition to our already strong Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences practice. We also regularly advise our clients on real estate, tax, labor and employment, public procurement, and competition law matters, among others.
CEELM: What are you looking to grow further?
Oliver: Strategically, green energy. We see a lot of potential there and we have interesting and exciting clients in that area, especially with Hungary perhaps being less open to green energy than some of the neighboring countries to this point. There is nothing more exciting than helping a client navigate a field of law which is truly just developing.
CEELM: How will the firm be different once that transition is complete? And what will you keep the same?
Oliver: Truthfully, I do not expect the firm to be different. For 15 years, we have successfully grown and expanded based on the ideals of the current leaders of the firm. I hope that I can build on what we have and emulate their decision making.
I would say that, while not different, I hope that I can add to the firm by bringing a new and perhaps more youthful perspective to the table. My mother says that Managing Partners are not like wine – meaning they do not necessarily get better with age. I am focused on growth, but I want to make sure that we grow by adding practice areas and practice groups that we do not already have, and that we find the most talented individuals in those fields to support and build upon. Csaba brings experience, education, and a skillset that no one else in Hungary has. Our White-Collar Criminal practice is headed by an attorney who was a police officer prior to making the transition. I personally cannot think of a better person to lead this practice than someone who has seen the system from the inside out.
As to why I hope to keep much the same, much of what I have learned about this industry came as lessons from my mother. Her business development skills are second to none, so I am hoping to learn and grow on that front from her still. She also has a phenomenal way of being a leader and a mentor, but also a friend to everyone. It is hard to explain and mimic, but I have to learn and execute it the same way she does! And of course, I have to incorporate the lessons I learned from mentors like Chris McKenna and David Mortlock along the way. Our focus on the human element is the most important thing – to have the team happy and content coming into work and appreciating both the place they work in and the teammates that they can learn from and work with.
CEELM: Csaba, what is your role in all of this? How will you be supporting this changing of the guard?
Csaba: I think my precise role and contributions will become clearer over time as we grow and things develop. This is not something that can be precisely foreseen as we sit here today, but focusing on the big picture goals, the first is of course making sure that we continue to deliver excellent value for the firm’s existing clients.
The professional development of the firm’s attorneys will be key as well. I was very lucky to have been able to spend time with Arnold & Porter where collegiality and supporting each other was so important – and I see a lot of that at KNP. I wish to share my knowledge and experience with folks at the firm.
CEELM: Looking at the legal services market in Hungary, what are the things you will make sure to keep an eye on?
Oliver: I would call it the innovation gap that needs to be filled in the profession, especially in Hungary. Our job as lawyers is to advise and communicate clearly and effectively, but also to stay on top of new developments.
Csaba: The Hungarian market today is doing extremely well, since it is plugged into the international trade and business environment. Here I am talking not just about the EU but also North America, and increasingly Asia and Africa. We want to be at the cutting edge of these developments, helping clients navigate challenges and giving the lawyers of the firm as much opportunity to engage with that as possible.