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The CEELMDirect Profile Pick: An Interview with Igor Zivkovski of Zivkovic Samardzic

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CEELMDirect Profile Pick: A series of interviews with partners and firms with profiles on the new CEELMDirect online legal directory. Today’s interview: Igor Zivkovski, Partner at Zivkovic Samardzic in Serbia.

CEELMDirectIgor, how has the first half of 2022 been for you, your firm, and your clients? 

Zivkovski: The first and second quarters of 2022 were very challenging in all areas of the economy, not only in Serbia, but across the Western Balkans. We were faced with the consequences of the COVID pandemic, with military conflict in the east of Europe, as well as with a global crisis and inflation whose effects will be seen in the third and fourth quarters of 2022 and in 2023.

Despite everything, in this challenging and rapidly changing environment, our business is recording growth. We managed to maintain our position as one of the leading full-service independent law firms in Serbia and Montenegro. Especially in the first two quarters of this year, our law firm was involved in many significant transactions, and drafted legal opinions, and provided legal advice. I would particularly like to mention our legal analysis of Serbia’s regulatory framework related to the issuance of and the exchange and trading platform for stablecoins, which is of great importance considering that the framework for digital assets is still new, and yet to be tested in practice.

I am optimistic about the future as we continue to be responsible and provide creative solutions to the challenges our clients face.

CEELMDirectYou have, over the years, contributed 16 thought leadership articles to the CEE Legal Matters website – far more than most lawyers. Do you enjoy the process of considering and preparing these analyses? How does doing so fit into your personal concept of lawyering? 

Zivkovski: I believe that lawyers are writers. Whether it is a merger agreement, an email to a client, or draft legislation, the legal craft is often a written one. Sure, a brief legal opinion may not be a literary masterpiece, but it is at least a testament to your skill with the written word. So why not put that skill to better use? Publishing articles regularly can help lawyers build a name, establish themselves as experts, and increase their credibility, especially if the articles are published on an important platform, which the CEE Legal Matters website certainly is, with great traffic and many decision-makers reading the articles. Moreover, you might actually enjoy it. 

I am very active as a lecturer at the Academy of the Legal Profession of the Bar Association of Serbia and at the eCommerce Academy of the eCommerce Association of Serbia, so I know that academics are familiar with the phrase "publish or perish." It represents the idea that the continued publication of scholarly articles is essential to maintaining an academic career – the pressure to pad your CV has grown so strong that many academics pay to have their pieces published, even in respected journals. The reason for writing is simple: the more quality writing you put out, and the more people see your name, the more credible you become in your field.

CEELMDirectWhat with COVID, global inflation, and a major military conflict not too far away, this has obviously been a challenging past few years in Serbia, as across CEE and the world. In your opinion, how has Serbia weathered those storms – and is there something you think the country could or should do better going forward?

Zivkovski: The Serbian economy recovered well from a mild recession in 2020 that was related to the impact of COVID-19. The economy grew in 2021, driven mainly by private consumption, due to a strong increase in salary levels and consumer loans. The economic recovery in 2021 was broad, except for the agriculture sector. 

Growth is expected to decelerate in 2022, and the risks to the growth outlook are tilted downwards. However, the war in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions imposed on Russia will have an impact on Serbia’s exports, foreign direct investment, remittances, and tourism revenues. As such, economic growth for 2022 has been revised downward. Poverty reduction is expected to stagnate in 2022, as higher inflation is eroding income gains.

The unfolding war in Ukraine poses a significant downside risk to household welfare in Serbia. Although the Serbian economy is expected to continue to grow, rising inflation will limit the purchasing power of citizens. Rising energy prices, if passed onto household energy tariffs, would disproportionately affect the poor.

CEELMDirect: You have a Premium profile on the CEELMDirect platform. What potential do you think the platform has to help you and your colleagues?  

Zivkovski: The CEELMDirect platform is a very useful initiative that has been long-awaited. A legal directory like CEELMDirect gives us the opportunity to become well-known throughout the region, which represents a great chance to reach future clients. Potential clients can use the platform to obtain necessary information about law firms as well as about their partners, i.e., the leading people of the law firm. All this is available at a very reasonable price, which is another advantage.

CEELMDirect: Finally, are there any major or significant changes or initiatives underway at Zivkovic Samardzic you’re proud of and would like to tell us about?

Zivkovski: Currently, we are emphasizing the following four areas: (1) Optimizing networking capacity and our ability to enter new markets, since we are currently members of five different international law/accounting associations, and last year we participated in forming a new regional network called Rivet:net, so we need to take full advantage of all this power; (2) Our idea is to remain a full-service law firm, but each department should further develop the skills and approach of highly-specialized boutique establishments in order to add value on both ends; (3) Technology – the continuous improvement of internal software solutions; and (4) Compliance and standardization (final introduction of the ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 standards).

CEELMDirect: Excellent. Thank you so much.