CEELMDirect Profile Pick: A series of interviews with partners and firms with profiles on the new CEELMDirect online legal directory. Today’s interview: Mark Harrison, Founder and Principal at Harrisons in Serbia and Montenegro.
CEELMDirect: According to your firm’s CEELMDirect profile, Harrisons was the first international law firm to set up an office in Serbia and Montenegro, and it remains the only English law firm with offices in the two countries. In what way is your status as an English/international firm a unique selling point? What’s the particular value of that to your clients?
Harrison: Western investors, banks, and law firms feel very comfortable when they know they are dealing with an English law firm – in particular when they have had no prior experience of Serbia and Montenegro. They know we are regulated very strictly by the Solicitors Regulation Authority – a body I have to obtain a Practising Certificate from every year. They know matters such as know-your-client, anti-money laundering, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest (or even potential conflicts of interest) are sacrosanct to us. Likewise, knowing we have professional indemnity insurance cover from Lloyds of London is very important to them – as is the high level of insurance we offer. We are also unique in having an office in the City of London as well as Belgrade and Podgorica.
CEELMDirect: You, Mark, are described on the firm’s profile as being both the first English solicitor and the first European lawyer to become a member of the Serbian Bar Association. That’s quite impressive. When did that happen? Was it controversial within Serbia?
Harrison: In effect when I opened an office in Belgrade in 1998, I was persona non grata to the Serbian Bar Association. There were no international law firms. We did face a lot of "skepticism" from other law firms, which I found very concerning. However, I pointed out that a Serbian law firm could open up in London any day without any permission on the basis of reciprocity. I invited the International Division of the Law Society of England & Wales over to meet the Serbian Bar Association and was instrumental in having Serbian law qualifications recognized by England & Wales (and likewise from Montenegro), and finally, in 2013, I was accepted and sworn into the Serbian Bar as the first European Lawyer – which I am very proud of.
Harrison: I will have been qualified as an English solicitor for 40 years in October 2022, and I recognize the importance of good, effective, targeted marketing. Being a lawyer is a “contact sport.” I am selective on where we market. I have been very impressed with CEELM and its growth over the years and decided now was the time to increase our involvement with CEELM, and therefore we decided to upgrade our profile to Premium status.
CEELMDirect: How does your own business in the past year illustrate what sectors are most active right now in Serbia and Montenegro?
Harrison: In the last two COVID years we have kept the same team; no one has left, and we are optimistic about the future. We are known as the Banking & Finance firm, which is our core business. However, we realize the need to keep evolving into new markets and for the last 10+ years have been extremely active with the MENA region (Middle East & North Africa) where, for example, we act for three sovereign wealth funds. Abu Dhabi is now the second-largest owner of agricultural land in Serbia. Additionally, about five years ago we noted the strength in Serbia of software talent, and we are now heavily involved in IT start-ups.
CEELMDirect: Thank you, Mark, and continued success and growth in the months and years to come!