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The Corner Office: Your First Client

The Corner Office: Your First Client

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In The Corner Office, we invite Managing Partners at law firms from across the region to share information about their careers, management styles, and strategies. For this issue, we asked them to describe the first major deal or client matter they generated themselves, and how they did it. 

Uros Ulic, Managing Partner, ODI Law

With over 1100 employee and annual sales of over EUR 100 million, MSIN – which holds a controlling share in numerous Slovenian companies (CETIS, KIG, Gorenjski Tisk, Donit Tesnit, and Keko Varicon) – is the largest Slovenian privately owned private equity group.

I first crossed paths with MSIN during their successful takeover of Keo Varicon, in which I, working as an associate at a Slovenian firm, represented the seller in the transaction. Apparently they were impressed with my work, as MSIN subsequently directly engaged me for their successful and media-exposed hostile takeover of Gorenjski Tisk in 2008, which represented a benchmark for successful hostile takeovers in Slovenia given its magnitude (the transaction value exceeded EUR 30 million) and its post-acquisition impact. It also represented a turning point in my career, as, in accepting the mandate, I left the firm to open up ODI.

Several damages and criminal cases sprung from the named transaction, which resulted in interim injunctions being rendered and resulted, inter alia, in the conviction and imprisonment of the rival bidder’s (the KRATER group) CEO. Furthermore, owing to my successful representation of MSIN, I was later rather curiously engaged by the KRATER group in their corporate restructuring project.

Moreover, I consequently not only became the MSIN’s main attorney-at-law, but various other complex takeover and litigation cases followed (e.g., MAHLE Letrika). Due to the increased number of the said cases, I ended up hiring three more lawyers that very first year.

Ron Given, Co-Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss Poland

One incident in particular comes to mind. It does not involve the very first piece of business I snagged but it taught me a lesson I will never forget. This goes back to the later part of the 1980’s. I was already a partner at Mayer Brown in Chicago. A banker friend that I had worked closely with at the once prominent Continental Bank (now part of Bank of America) left and started working for Mitsubishi Bank (now Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ). Try as we might, my friend and I could not get the General Manager of Mitsubishi to use Mayer Brown. He had a long-term relationship with another international firm in town and saw no reason to change. Then, out of the blue, I was sitting in my office one Friday afternoon when my friend called me saying he needed an immediate quote for a small deal in Detroit. When I expressed surprise that Mayer Brown was getting a shot my friend explained that he had called the bank’s contact at their regular law firm two days before and had yet to receive a call back. The bank was being pressed by its own customer, so the General Manager told my friend it was okay to try me. I got that Detroit deal. The bill was less than USD 5,000. But it was my opening. From then on Mayer Brown did not get all the Mitsubishi deals but at least we got a chance to compete for them and usually won at least half. And, three years later, when that General Manager rotated back to Tokyo, he brought Mayer Brown and me into a large international deal for which our bill was publicly disclosed as being close to USD 1 million. So, my advice to both my contemporaries and younger colleagues alike is that you should promptly return your telephone calls (which now translates into emails). It may well be worth a million!

Alexandr Cesar, Managing Partner, Baker & McKenzie

It seems like the Stone Age to me now, but as a very junior lawyer in the beginning of the 1990s I was facing a large Czech energy company, at that time in state control, which had heard what I had done for their competitor in terms of certain corporate work, and wanted to be provided with similar assistance. I went to their HQ and met a member of the Board of Directors, a guy close to retirement. At the end of the meeting he asked me: “What is your hourly rate for this work?”

I felt ashamed to tell him the junior rate at a prominent international law firm, which I knew would be higher than his then-weekly salary. Still, I gave him the figure and saw his eyebrows rise. He asked me, “... and what is the cost for doing all this corporate work?”

I was silent for a bit, due to my inexperience with this type of question. “What would you suggest?” I asked.

He gave me a figure and I knew I would have to give up six months of my salary to make the assignment profitable.

I mumbled, “Good coffee...,” and we sat in silence for another minute.

“Sorry, what was your surname?”, the director asked, breaking the deathlike silence. 

I gave it to him and we found out that he knew my father very well. To cut the story short, I finally got the assignment from him without being forced by my partners to subsidize it with my salary.

Mykola Stetsenko, Managing Partner, Avellum

I believe it was January 2010 when I got a call from the Head of Legal of MHP Group, who told me that MHP intended to go with the next round of Eurobonds. MHP is the largest chicken meat producer in Ukraine and one of the largest in the world. I had worked for this client before at my previous law firm and was extremely excited to hear that they were seriously considering engaging Avellum, a law firm that had been established only six months before. For us it was also an excellent opportunity to bring along Freshfields as the lead counsel to MHP. Ultimately, I think it was the dedication and quality of the work we did [for] MHP during their IPO and debut Eurobond that persuaded them to entrust us with this important deal. It turned out to be our first major public transaction.

Alexandra Doytchinova, Managing Partner, Schoenherr Bulgaria

Haven’t we all attended workshops with star-lecturers teaching us how to identify opportunities, attract clients, and gain similar acquisition wisdom? But in fact opportunities often come unplanned, and it may just be the right person in the right place remembering you at the right moment. My first own big ticket acquisition was indeed a matter of a chance.

Someone I knew on a social basis, with whom we had discussed business on numerous occasions but had never collaborated in practice, rang me unexpectedly in 2011. He had, in the interim, started working for the second largest Russian bank. They were eyeing the recently announced privatization of the major state-owned cigarette producer and needed Bulgarian and Austrian law expertise ASAP. It took no longer than a day to clear conflicts, prepare the offer with some outstanding references, negotiate the engagement, and kick off the work. Now, years later, following several other great deals we worked on successfully, they remain among my most valued clients.

Panagiotis Drakopoulos, Managing Partner, Drakopoulos

In 1995, I was running a solo legal practice when I received a call for an interview from the then very small Greek subsidiary of a multinational group, who had found my resume in the database of one of the Big Four accounting firms I had sent it to in case any of their clients were looking for a lawyer with my skills. The interview went well, I thought, but over six months passed without hearing back from the company.

I then received another call and was assigned a very specific matter, which looked like a “one-off” job, as six more months passed before I received a third call, where I was invited to join the company’s panel of advisors.

As the years went by, we became the exclusive lawyers for this client, not only in Greece but also in several other countries across Southeast Europe.

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