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It was nineteen years ago, but I remember it vividly as if it were yesterday: fresh out of law faculty and green with excitement, I was sitting in my very first job interview when the question fell: “Do you know anything about mortgages?” I started reciting: “A mortgage is a real right of a third person …,” when my future mentor smiled and exclaimed: “Ah, never mind, you will learn!”

According to its website, Budapest-based InvestCEE aims to “humanize technology” for lawyers and provides services to law firms and in-house counsel in Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

As Europe begins a tentative re-opening following several difficult months of quarantining, social distancing, and working-from-home, we spoke to CMS’s Warsaw-based Employment Partner Katarzyna Dulewicz and Vienna-based Dispute Resolution Partner Daniela Karollus-Bruner for their perspective on the process.

According to the 2019 CEE By the Numbers issue of the CEE Legal Matters magazine, almost two third of all lawyers and almost half of all partners at ranked Romanian law firms are women. As Romania’s population, economy, and (therefore) legal market are much larger than its chief competitors in both categories, its achievements in this area are particularly significant. Romania’s most prominent female managing partners insist that, indeed, sexism, in the Romanian legal industry, is essentially a non-factor.

The novel coronavirus has sent markets into a tailspin and forced the scrapping of many plans for this business year. Commercial law firms, their businesses closely tied to the way economies ebb and flow, have been forced to adapt. This global phenomenon is in some ways particularly poignant in Greece, which was finally, after a decade of darkness, showing signs of returning to the light. Commercial Greek law firms, excited about the prospects of a highly-anticipated economic recovery, have discovered they’ll have to wait just a little bit longer. Still, they insist, good times are just around the corner.

I was born in Moldova and obtained my first degree in law from a Moldovan university 20 years ago. Since its independence in 1991, Moldova – a small landlocked country located between Ukraine in the East and Romania in the West – has struggled to survive, being torn apart by various geopolitical interests, political havoc, corruption, and economic fluidity. The legal industry has struggled as well. Although a lot has changed in my time as a lawyer, I cannot confidently say that the legal industry in Moldova has witnessed tremendous growth.

The Romanian legal market got overheated in the past couple of years. The numbers went up and competition increased. The industry got more sophisticated and a variety of success stories unfolded.

When I was asked to write this editorial by CEE Legal Matters I started to wonder how I could describe the current situation in Central and Eastern Europe. The first half of the year will definitely remain marked by the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, this editorial will not be focused on the pandemic, on measures taken (or not taken) by the governments in the region, or on what the consequences will be. Instead, I will try to provide an overview of the market, specifically as it relates to our business in this part of the world – and how I expect it to develop in the years to come.

In March of 2019, relative unknown Zuzana Caputova won the Slovakian Presidential election, becoming the first woman and – at 45 – the youngest person ever to hold that office. With a background as an environmental lawyer and human rights activist, Caputova is largely viewed in Slovakia as a unifier, taking strong and reasonable approaches to even apparently intractable problems. Her success has inspired a degree of hope for the future from her former peers and colleagues in Slovakia’s legal community.

When I was asked some time age to write an editorial for CEE Legal Matters on the Slovak legal market I thought it would be a nice opportunity to review my last 20 years, approaching the end of another very successful financial year.

In 2009, deep in the throes of the global financial crisis, Mykola Stetsenko, a partner at Baker & McKenzie in Kyiv, stepped away from that secure position to start his own law firm. His ambitious move paid off, and now, eleven years later, the firm he launched – Avellum – is among the most successful and highly regarded in Ukraine.

We decided to lighten the mood this time around by asking our Law Firm Marketing experts from across the region a non-law-firm related question: “What did you most want to be when you were little?”

A CEELM Profile of Daniel Szabo, Central Europe Team Lead at Hewlett Packard Enterprise in Budapest.

Over the past few years CMS advised the OTP Bank Group on an extensive series of acquisitions across Bulgaria, Moldova, and former Yugoslavia. This series of separate deals was shortlisted for CEE Legal Matters’ CEE Deal of the Year in each of the countries involved, actually winning the 2018 Deal of the Year for Bulgaria and the 2019 Deal of the Year Award for Montenegro. We reached out to Eva Talmacsi, who led CMS’s multi-jurisdictional team, to learn more about the firm’s impressive work on OTP’s behalf.

On January 1st, 2020, the Hungarian government adopted new legislation making continuing professional education compulsory for lawyers, post-qualification, along the lines of post-certification training and education that tax advisors and accountants had been forced to obtain for many years.

The Spring of 2020 brought the pandemic to CEE, with its “perfect storm” of ingredients – including significant legal ramifications. Whether you are an individual, a business, or a governmental official, the storm made you ask at least one of these questions: “What are my rights in pre-existing contract?”, “Am I still bound to pay?”, “Can I get my money back?”, “Will I be liable for this?”, and “What legislation is needed to help ease the impact on the public?” 

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