20 April 2014
Editorial: On CEE, Russia, and St. Petersburg

I would like to start with a few words of gratitude to CEE Legal Matters for offering me the opportunity to contribute to the Guest Editorial for the April issue. Last year was memorable in many ways, both for Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners (EPAM) and for me personally. It was a year of new discoveries and significant achievements.

Our Firm has reached the 20-year frontier in its history with a number of honours and awards bestowed by the Russian and international legal communities. We received awards from The Lawyer in three categories simultaneously: European Law Firm of the Year, Law Firm of the Year: Russia, and European Corporate Team of the Year. In the Pravo.ru-300 national rating, meanwhile, we increased our lead on the competition even more. And in 2014, we plan to go even further. The positive market trends and the Firm’s latest appointments will provide the drive for our next leap forward.

I feel very optimistic about the state of Russia’s legal market, which has matured and diversified despite significant geopolitical upheavals.

EPAM is increasingly focusing on the pressing international private and public law issues related to WTO accession, the tragic events in Ukraine, the de-offshorization of the economy, and changing tax legislation. For example, the events in Ukraine and the Crimea have given rise to a number of significant new risks for the global, Ukrainian, and Russian business communities, which have been forced to take extreme and painful measures. International economic sanctions aimed at a country’s business community do nothing to solve the challenges facing the world, and have a grave impact on global trade and foreign investments. 

The fact that the leading American trans-national corporations alone have amassed more than a trillion US dollars is a sign of the global crisis, with private companies around the world cutting or rethinking their investment models. It is also obvious that public law models for intergovernmental relations, including economic sanctions, are at odds with private law models for regulating international trade. I am convinced that similar legal and economic dilemmas will have an increasing impact in the future.

When it comes to the development of the legal market in Russia, we cannot ignore the ongoing changes in the judicial system. I am talking primarily about the consolidation of the two highest courts: the Supreme Commercial Court, which considers commercial and economic disputes between legal entities, and the Supreme Court, which mostly handles disputes between individuals. Last year, the Supreme Commercial Court of the Russian Federation also handed down a number of public and civil law precedents that became the focus of active discussion in the legal community. They were related to several principal changes in Russia’s Civil Code that address freedom of contract, and the principles of fair and rational application of civil rights. Along with e-justice, open discussions of draft legal positions shaping the country’s high courts have increased the level of trust in the Russian judicial system. Other pressing issues in the development of legal practice are precedents in bankruptcy cases involving legal entities, and the expansion of the set of tools to claim subsidiary liability against controlling parties, including direct owners whose actions have caused or facilitated their companies’ bankruptcies.

Another challenge facing our Firm – and our St. Petersburg office in particular – is the complexity of legal services required by the market. This demands attorneys with increasingly narrow fields of specialization combined with the skills needed to find the inter-sectorial solutions for their clients’ needs. As a rule, legal solutions for the most challenging client business needs – like the ones my colleagues and I deal with on a daily basis – lie in several different areas of law. We believe that these increased expectations give the few firms in Russia able to provide client-oriented solutions and a practical understanding of client needs a unique competitive edge on the legal services market, since the majority of firms in Russia  offer only  typical, standard services. I am positive that the complexity, difficulty, and inter-sectorial nature of our clients’ needs will only increase in the future.

I believe that the new challenges facing the legal market are related not only to the danger of economic slowdown and stagnation, but also to the danger of stagnation in the skills of attorneys who are not quick enough, or not eager enough, to change their modus operandi to fit the changing business world. Dynamism, openness to change and to new expectations, highly-developed knowledge, and a focus on the business goals of our clients have always been and will continue to be the key to success.

The transfer of Russia’s high courts to St. Petersburg that is scheduled for the next two years is also highly significant for lawyers in this market. Obviously, as the Supreme Court follows the Constitutional Court to St. Petersburg, this will provide a new impetus for the growth of the St. Petersburg legal market as a whole. The Firm is also closely watching the St. Petersburg International Legal Forum, an independent professional platform for legal professionals from across the world to engage in an open discussion of the most pressing and urgent issues of the day. 

This year, the Forum will be held in St. Petersburg from June 18-21, in the midst of the White Nights. I would like to take this opportunity to invite all my colleagues and CEE Legal Matters’ readers to take part in the event. I will be delighted to welcome you to our beautiful city!

Originally published in CEE Legal Matters

Key contacts

Ivan Smirnov

Ivan Smirnov

St. Petersburg