German lawyer Thomas Mundry has been living and working in Russia since 1994. He advises both Western and Russian clients on investment, financing, and other projects in the Russian Federation. His sphere of activity covers a wide range of industries, including automotive manufacturing and supply industry, oil and gas, chemicals, engineering, retail, food and consumer goods, the fashion industry, and IT.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current role with Noerr.
T.M.: I started my career in a law firm which had its main office in Stuttgart – one of the industrial centers of Germany. In the early nineties the Iron Curtain broke down and my firm decided to expand its business activities to Eastern Europe. I started the Moscow office of my firm and later moved to the Moscow office of Noerr. I advise German and other Western businesses on their investments in Russia. Among my clients are Daimler, Continental, Knorr-Bremse, and McDonald’s.
CEELM: Was it always your goal to work abroad?
T.M.: Not really. After having gained several years of experience in a large German law firm I felt that I should do something new. That coincided with the firm’s plans to expand to Russia, so I agreed to open the Moscow office of that firm and head the office for a year’s term. As the business developed successfully I decided to continue without time limitation.
CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years.
T.M.: I advise Western businesses on all steps of their investments in Russia. Businesses delivering to Russia often wish to establish a representative office branch or subsidiary in Russia to better serve their clients. Russian localization requirements or other business need may make it necessary to produce goods in Russia and/or to co-operate with a Russian partner in a joint venture. The establishment of a production plant or of a joint venture requires a thorough due diligence of land and buildings and/or of the Russian joint venture partner. Often the relevant documentation is the subject of extensive discussion between the investor and his/he business partners. Currently, Western and Russian sanctions as well as Russian localization requirements are major issues. We always look for solutions which comply with the legal requirements and serve the business needs of our clients. We often develop creative and special (e.g., contract manufacturing) structures for our clients.
CEELM: How would clients describe your style?
T.M.: The focus of my work is the concrete needs of my clients. I offer efficient and tailor-made advice. Large standard sample agreements do not always meet clients’ needs. I work with small teams in order to keep close contact with each lawyer involved in the client’s work and to keep fees at a reasonable level.
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the Russian and German judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
T.M.: Like the continental European legal system, the Russian system is based more on the law than on court precedent. And Russian courts decide cases on the wording of the law rather than on its spirit and purpose. Therefore, agreements must be drafted very accurately, in order to ensure that all wishes of the parties are clearly expressed. For the same reason, Russian parties are reluctant to accept blanket clauses referring to good faith, business customs, or similar concepts.
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
T.M.: Germans are well known for long-term thinking and planning. Therefore, their projects are often successful and Germans are welcome as business partners. However, sometimes planning may last too long. I always admire the Russian talent for improvisation and creativity. Unfortunately, Russian businessmen often look for quick success. Usually, they are not patient and willing to wait for long if profits may not be gained immediately. The different cultures often lead to conflicts between business partners. Prospects of a joint venture are high if the different attitudes can be merged.
CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
T.M.: As a senior expatriate lawyer, I wish to deeply understand the business interests of my clients and to propose solutions which exactly meet their interests and needs. The advice of a senior expat is expected to be well-structured and designed in a form which the client can expect from a lawyer in a Western country.
CEELM: Do you expect to return to Germany at some point in the future?
T.M.: Approximately fifteen years ago I planned, upon retirement, to go back to Germany and settle down in a small village. I even bought a small house in the countryside far away from the big cities. Now, much closer to retirement, I cannot imagine stopping working and leaving this great city, with its daily changes, with all its interesting and open-minded people, and with all its great chances and opportunities. So I am looking forward to staying for many more exciting years.
CEELM: Outside of Russia, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?
T.M.: I very much like visiting the Czech Republic (in particular, Prague). The Czech Republic did extremely well after the falling down of the Iron Curtain. Being aware of the difficult history of the Czech Republic and Germany in the last century, I feel that the cultures of both countries have very much in common.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Moscow?
T.M.: My favorite places are Kolomenskoye Park and the New Maiden’s Monastery. Both places show great parts of Russian history and are excellent places for a walk.
CEELM: Finally, although the German team had a disappointing trip, did you manage to see them play in the World Cup in Russia this year?
T.M.: Unfortunately not. But I watched the game between Belgium and Tunisia in Spartak Stadium. I saw a great Belgian team which, in my view, outperformed the German team by far. In any event, the World Championship was a great happening which was perfectly organized by the Russians. I am sure that many foreign visitors brought home positive reports of Russia which differ greatly from the customary reporting of Western mass media.
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.