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.
These days, the Moldovan legal market is still dominated by local law firms and individual practitioners. There is an exiguous number of lawyers with sufficient experience and knowledge to professionally address complex projects in line with the best industry standards.
Back when I began my career 20 years ago, lawyers were mainly associated with court representations. There was little-to-no demand for lawyers experienced in contract law (one-page contracts were the rule at the time), let alone other areas of expertise.
In time, however, and with the first wave of foreign investments, and even though the legal framework was not ready to accommodate the investment structures investors were accustomed to from more advanced settings, lawyers were required to display a different set of competences and skills. Investors needed lawyers fluent in English, experienced in due diligence, deal structuring, contracts, mergers and acquisitions, who could also address client goals and concerns.
And this kind of knowledge and competences could not be acquired from local universities or from other local practitioners. Under such circumstances, when the Internet was just debuting, getting access to information was a challenge. A good speciality book was worth a few months’ salary. I remember grasping the information and knowledge that I needed, piecemeal, to educate myself, to avoid becoming just another lawyer in Moldova.
A few years after my graduation I was very lucky to be admitted to a Master’s degree program at one of the finest law universities in the Netherlands. That was a different world - students with access to good learning opportunities simply cannot imagine how lucky they are! I could only dream of that kind of opportunity when I started working in the legal profession.
Now, access and availability have become less of an issue. Although still limited in number, some good legal practices have been established, meeting the demands of the most exquisite clients. Our legal learning opportunities may have not improved much over the last 20 years, but foreign universities are closer and more accessible to my co-nationals than they were before. Also, with the advanced use of the Internet and other new technologies, self-education and distance learning have become very popular and efficient, especially when combined with existing jobs.
Some say that lawyers will soon be replaced by Artificial Intelligence, which may be true in a progressive world, where the legal system is perfected and adapted to the needs of people and businesses. But I would argue that a good lawyer is not one who knows and professionally operates with the law, but one who discerns creative and professional solutions to meet the demands and expectations of clients, considering the imperfections and peculiarities of the existing legal framework – which can prove to be a hard nut to crack in Moldova.
By Igor Odobescu, Partner, ACI Partners