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Growing Organically Across CEE: Peterka & Partners Opens for Business in Croatia

Growing Organically Across CEE: Peterka & Partners Opens for Business in Croatia

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Peterka & Partners has been steadily expanding its reach across Europe for more than 23 years, with the recent addition of Croatia to the firm’s network. Peterka & Partners Managing Partner Ondrej Peterka and the Croatian firm’s Main Contact Person, Attorney-at-Law Anja Haramija, share details about the firm’s vision and its recent expansion.

CEELM: Starting from the beginning, how was Peterka & Partners established initially and how did it grow to eight offices in eight countries in 23 years?

Peterka: Peterka & Partners was established in Prague back in 2000 with a team of ten lawyers. Over time, the firm has expanded its reach to other countries in Eastern Europe. In 2001, we opened an office in Slovakia, followed by Ukraine in 2005, and Bulgaria in 2008. In 2010, the firm extended its presence to Poland and Romania and, in 2013, we established an office in Hungary. The newest addition to the firm’s network is the Croatian office, which opened in March 2023.

CEELM: Joining networks and establishing cross-border law firm partnerships seem to be much more frequent these days, in terms of expanding a law firm’s footprint. What’s your strategy and why is it different?

Peterka: Our approach to expanding our operations involves opening new offices as greenfield operations, rather than acquiring law firms. Typically, we send expat personnel to initiate the process, and then we transition to local management. However, over time, we opted to work directly with local people (without any expats), as happened during our recent expansion into Hungary and Croatia.

Although our model is more financially demanding, it allows us to invest in one firm’s operation, including IT, marketing, and personnel, which, in return, provides significant benefits to our clients, who value an integrated firm. They appreciate the control we have over all our offices, our single system of fees, and the dialogue we have regarding the client-law firm relationship. Consequently, we find that regional firms like ours are in a better position to meet their needs.

CEELM: What about your latest expansion effort? Why did Croatia make sense, what was the initial plan, and how did that turn out, considering market specifics?

Peterka: We have established a strong presence in Croatia due to several reasons. Firstly, we have received numerous client requests over the years to cover the former Yugoslavia, and Croatia is the largest jurisdiction of theirs that is part of the EU. It makes great sense to coordinate services in the former Yugoslavia from Zagreb, as this is a central location. Secondly, many international groups – our clients – are already operating in Croatia or expressing interest in working with us there. Finally, there is a significant relationship between the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Croatia, with a lot of cross-border investments in Croatia.

When we opened our office, we hired our first lawyers and started working to see how things would progress. Fortunately, things are going quite well, and we have proceeded similarly to how we had established our presence in other countries. We believe starting operations and working as you go is important, adapting to the circumstances as they arise.

CEELM: Anja, what were the factors that motivated you personally to consider joining the Peterka & Partners team?

Haramija: For the past six and a half years, I have worked in two prominent Croatian law firms, but their focus was mainly domestic, lacking the international orientation that I find most intriguing. As a result, I was drawn to the Peterka & Partners team, which operates in eight European countries and has a team of highly motivated and talented lawyers.

After my initial interview, I was impressed with the group’s organized and goal-oriented approach, as well as their high-profile clients and challenging work. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t resist and, three months later, I am thrilled to have accepted the offer. 

CEELM: Ondrej, how did you choose Anja, as you previously had no feet on the ground?

Peterka: The most crucial and challenging task for any organization is to select the right people. That’s why I took a personal interest in the process when we were looking to add new team members. We reached out to firms, lawyers, and HR agencies in Croatia, using several channels to identify potential candidates. We conducted multiple interviews, and Anja stood out for her pragmatic approach, commitment, and ability to act quickly. 

We were also pleased that, given that our firm has a high percentage of women – close to 70% – including in management, Anja would fit the team perfectly. This is not just a trendy statement but our long-standing commitment. After working with Anja for three months, we can confidently say that she was the right choice. She has integrated well into the team and is performing exceptionally.

CEELM: When setting up a new office in Croatia, what were the main priorities on your to-do list?

Haramija: Our initial thought was to hire competent personnel, including lawyers and administrative staff, who can deliver top-notch legal services. We utilized various networks and channels, including agencies, to search for suitable candidates, and conducted multiple rounds of interviews. We now have three lawyers and one administrative staff member on our team. 

Secondly, we also had to find an office. Rather than opting for contemporary skyscrapers, we preferred the traditional architecture and charming essence of the old-fashioned buildings situated in the heart of Zagreb. Although it was challenging to find properties that met our requirements, we managed to locate suitable premises promptly. Today, our office is located in the most beautiful Zagreb Park – Zrinjevac – where we occupy 150 square meters of office space. 

CEELM: What are your relatively short-term and long-term objectives in terms of operating in the Croatian market, and what is your focus now?

Haramija: Our objective is to offer legal services of the utmost quality while also attracting new clients. We aim to expand our team to ten lawyers, with each person specializing in their respective fields, ranging from corporate and M&A to labor, public procurement, real estate, and more. Until we achieve this, we will be pursuing a holistic approach to our services, with internal specializations for the time being. Our ultimate goal is to provide legal assistance in all areas, thus establishing ourselves as a full-service law firm, as we have done in all other countries.

CEELM: What’s the one thing that’s hardest for your firm when branching out into a new market? 

Peterka: The crucial element is to find the right people. Our company caters to clients from both international and the local Czech, Slovak, and Polish markets who express an interest in collaborating with us. However, providing exceptional service relies heavily on having the appropriate personnel in place. Hence, we conducted thorough research to ensure that we can offer the same level of guidance in Croatia as we do in other countries.

CEELM: Finally, what’s Peterka & Partners’ strategy for the next 23 years? 

Peterka: Our goal is for our law firm to continue beyond our tenure. As such, we are exploring opportunities for expansion into other regions, including all former Yugoslav countries, Scandinavia, the Baltics, and what we refer to as the former Austria-Hungary. As a regional legal service provider with a one-stop model, we are serious about these prospects and are considering them carefully, taking into account our experience in Croatia. We have received positive feedback from clients and are confident that they will continue to follow us into new markets. 

This article was originally published in Issue 10.5 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here

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