In the late Summer of 1984, while hanging out in Bucharest one evening, a university friend and I decided (with the help of some local red wine) to go “look for Dracula.” Full of adventure and certainly educational, the experience was not a positive one. Due to the harsh policies of the Ceausescu regime at the time, Romania was a dark place (there were literally few if any lights during the evenings), with little food to eat (even for foreigners like us), and a local population who would rarely, if ever, talk to us (unbeknownst to us at the time, the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, required anyone who had contact with a foreigner to report the interaction – needless to say, this was not conducive to long and meaningful conversations).
Looking at the past 18 months, as economies across CEE contracted, the technology, media, and telecom sector has been surging. A balancing factor for economies, it helped avoid a deeper recession. For CEE law firms, TMT’s solid performance brought in a steady amount of work, helping polish what might otherwise have been a lackluster year.
Before the democratic changes of 1990 lawyers worked independently but under the supervision of the Minister of Justice. Remunerations were limited, leading to an administrative distribution of work. Lawyers were mainly involved in family and inheritance law, sale-purchase of housing, and cooperative relations.
The Ukrainian legal services market has been buzzing with work in the first half of 2021. CEE Legal Matters hosted a round table conversation in which Partners at Asters, Avellum, Integrites, Kinstellar, and Sayenko Kharenko discussed the driving forces behind the workload and their outlook for the months to come.
The pandemic has been devastating for Ukraine, with underfunded health services struggling to contain COVID-19 contagion. Scenes of hospitals overwhelmed with patients and lacking staff, equipment, and medication will haunt us even as cases drop and vaccinations rise. It has been a traumatic time for our team at the Kyiv Dentons office. We have been working hard to support and guide each other towards the glimmer of light at the end of this long and, at times scary, tunnel.
Regional periodical league tables ranking M&A activity through the lens of the law firms advising on the deals are often dominated by Baltic law firms, with the CEELM Index special issue of the CEE Legal Matters magazine reflecting the same trend. To better understand why that is so, we spoke with several Partners – from both Baltic firms and other CEE jurisdictions.
Over the years, all countries in the CEE region have drawn best-practice models from the West, particularly in legal, economic, and business terms. In a number of CEE countries, offices of international law firms opened in response to the needs of their global clients and market opportunities. These firms played a significant role and introduced their know-how to the legal market. Parallel to this, strong local players emerged in each of these countries, changing the competitive environment and challenging the international ones. Over the last few years, you can see a revision of the need to maintain a presence in the region by some international law firms, most notably Magic Circle and White Shoe firms.
Annual reports make up a fundamental part of many regional CEE law firms’ marketing strategies, providing those firms with an annual opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a particular area, their geographic footprints, and their ownership and facility with the research and technological tools and manpower necessary for the production of such comprehensive projects.
“What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start.” This popular joke underlines the low public perception of lawyers that remains common in today’s society. Although distrust toward lawyers has always existed, frivolous lawsuits, rising billing rates, and thrilling reports of lawyers behaving badly in the news do little to improve the public image of attorneys, especially in CEE.
The Vienna Stock Exchange was founded in 1771, during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. Initially launched as a market for state-issued bonds – only bonds, bills of exchange, and foreign currencies could be traded – it expanded rapidly. In 1818, the Austrian central bank – which had itself been founded only two years earlier – became the first joint-stock company to be listed on the exchange (and one of the first shareholders was Ludwig van Beethoven, who bought eight shares in 1819). In 1863, the Suez Canal Company had become the first foreign company to be listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange, and in 1865, there was a further foreign listing with premium bonds issued to fund Turkish railway lines (“Turkenlose”). When the Frankfurter Bankverein applied for a listing of the Turkenlose bonds on the VSE, the Exchange Chamber decided to introduce rules for the admission of foreign securities, and thus, in 1873, the “Italian bond” became the first official foreign listing by means of a formal application. In December 1997, the Vienna Stock Exchange Chamber was merged with the Austrian Futures and Options Exchange to form a new exchange operating company, Wiener Borse AG, and in subsequent years the business spectrum of the Vienna Stock Exchange broadened to include market data dissemination and index calculation as well as IT services and central securities depository services.
The global COVID-19 crisis has led to a significant change in the field of M&A, both in Austria, and worldwide. In my more-than-twenty years of experience, I have not seen anything change the Austrian legal market so incredibly. Starting in March 2020, as a first step, several transactions in Austria were at least temporarily put on hold. As a result, the total number of transactions decreased in 2020. However, this trend was not unique to Austria, but represents a worldwide paradigm shift caused by increased uncertainty about the future of business.
Starting from modest beginnings in the small Hungarian city of Eger, Agnes Molnar’s career has taken her across the world, from small local law firms to the Magic Circle, from state entities to global banks, and from Budapest to London to Vienna to Montreal. Now, some 10,000 kilometers away from her home country, she is a Partner at Travers Thorpe Alberga in the Cayman Islands. If, as the Chinese proverb has it, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, Molnar is already half-way there.