Musical Chairs in CEE: Some Partners Moving and Some Firms Moving Out
David Stuckey Musical Chairs in CEE: Some Partners Moving and Some Firms Moving Out
A full recovery from the global financial crisis is still far away, privatization processes are by-and-large completed, powerful sanctions on Russia are seriously impacting that massive economy, and geopolitical tensions are high: The prospects for a boom in CEE are fairly grim at the moment, and as the number of big-ticket deals in the region shrinks, the competition for the few that remain is getting tougher than ever.
Recognizing that the music is slowing and the amount of comfortable space is shrinking, a number of international law firms have found themselves forced off the dance floor in various markets. Thus, this past winter, Gide Loyrette Nouel and White & Case closed offices in Bucharest, and this summer, Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose Fulbright pulled up stakes in the Czech Republic. Most recently, in early August Chadbourne & Parke announced that the crisis in Ukraine had forced it to wind down its affairs there towards a September pull-out. The situation in Ukraine and the resulting powerful sanctions against Russia may mean others in those countries may follow suit before too long as well.
Yet one man’s loss is another man’s gain, and while some firms shed lawyers and close offices, others are hiring and expanding.
Doubling Down: Dentons Grows Aggressively in CEE
Confident that its model and reach gives the firm the unique ability not simply to weather the storm, but to thrive, Dentons seems to be especially confident about its prospects in the region. And while some of its competitors withdraw, Dentons is growing at a remarkable pace.
In mid-April the firm’s Bucharest office added a strong Competition team from Voicu & Filipescu, and in mid-July the firm announced that former legacy Salans Partner Perry Zizzi would be returning after 7 years at Clifford Chance to lead the Bucharest office’s Banking & Finance Group. Bucharest Managing Partner Anda Todor was very pleased to welcome Zizzi back. “His return marks yet another step in Dentons Bucharest’s growth strategy,” she said. “Perry’s previous experience with the firm and his strong reputation for legal excellence make him a great fit with our existing practice and a valuable addition to the team.”
When asked what drew him back to his old firm, Zizzi refers both to the firm’s culture and to its highly-regarded Real Estate Group. According to Zizzi, Dentons has, “a highly developed entrepreneurial spirit yet it encourages cohesive practice groups and cooperation among offices and regions.” He adds that: “I would go so far as to say that Dentons real estate practice in Europe works so well that it has become a model that other firms have tried to emulate.” In addition, Zizzi says, “Dentons’ polycentric character means that we don’t simply have a large headquarters that develops approaches to legal issues and creates templates in a top-down manner. Rather, each attorney – no matter in which office he or she is based – is given the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.”
Zizzi, it turned out, was just the first high-profile lateral move Dentons announced this summer. On July 31, the firm announced that Richard Singer, White & Case’s EMEA Director of Strategic Projects, had joined the firm in Prague as Chief Operating Officer, Europe. Singer assumes responsibility for Dentons business support teams in Europe, including finance, HR, IT, business development, and marketing. He also becomes a member of the Global Operating Committee.
Tomasz Dabrowski, Dentons’ CEO of Europe, commented: “We are delighted to welcome Richard to the team. His background in operational and business development roles across Central and Eastern Europe as well as the broader EMEA region, are an excellent fit. His appointment will support further improvements to the operational efficiency and business performance of the firm both at a regional and global level.”
Singer used similar terms in stating that: “Dentons has an ambitious growth strategy and I’m really excited to be able to help drive this forward from an operational and business performance perspective. I can clearly see the opportunities and am confident that with a great team across Europe in the finance, HR, IT, business development and marketing functions we will be able to deliver on it.”
Less than a week later, on August 6th, Dentons announced that former Chadbourne International Partner Adam Mycyk had joined the firm in Kiev. According to Dentons Kiev Managing Partner Oleg Batyuk, “Adam’s background, established cross-border practice and broad experience will be of tremendous benefit to our clients, and he is an excellent fit with the strengths of our Kyiv office and our global platform. He has an excellent reputation in our legal and business communities, and we are extremely pleased and excited to have him on board.”
Mycyk has worked in Ukraine for over 20 years, with his two stints at Chadbourne & Parke sandwiched around 5 years – four of them as office Managing Partner – at CMS Cameron McKenna. He is enthusiastic about joining the growing firm: “I am very excited to be joining the team here at Dentons in Kyiv,” he said. “Dentons is one of the leading international law firms in Ukraine, with a practice that encompasses a full range of legal services across a diverse range of industries. Dentons’ strong global capabilities allow us to assist clients on an extensive array of cross-border issues and transactions. At this critical stage in Ukraine’s development, my arrival reaffirms Dentons’ long-standing commitment to the Ukrainian market.”
It may not be quite accurate to suggest that in growing so quickly and aggressively at a time when others are pulling out Dentons is swimming against the tide. But there’s a powerful optimism at the firm at the moment, and the challenges facing many international law firms in CEE these days don’t seem to be troubling it much at all. And with these three major additions in CEE since mid-July (and more additions will reportedly be announced soon), it doesn’t appear that Dentons will be following its erstwhile competitors out of town anytime soon.
Czech Mates: The Departures of Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose Fulbright from Prague Sees Former Partners Move to Local Firms
When Norton Rose Fulbright and Hogan Lovells announced plans to close their Prague offices, two strong Czech firms seized the opportunity to snatch up the senior lawyers suddenly on the market.
First, when Norton Rose Fulbright shut its doors in Prague on May 1 (its second closing, after its first attempt at a Bohemian office failed in 1996), Pavel Kvicala accepted the offer to move with his team to Havel Holasek & Partners. Kvicala specializes in mergers and acquisitions, private equity, commercial law, and banking and finance, primarily in the energy and IT sectors. He becomes the 25th partner at Havel & Holasek, far and away the largest law firm in the country.
Subsequently, and a month after Hogan Lovells closed its Prague office on July 1, former Managing Partner Miroslav Dubovsky announced that he would become the 7th partner at Weinhold Legal. Dubovsky specializes in Corporate/M&A and Private Equity, with particular experience in securities and finance transactions, including project finance and real estate finance deals. He is an arbitrator in the Arbitration Court attached to the Economic Chamber of the Czech Republic and Agricultural Chamber of the Czech Republic, and a member of the ICC’s Commission on International Arbitration.
Weinhold Legal Managing Partner Daniel Weinhold refers to Dubovsky as a “significant player,” and says that: “We are delighted to have Miroslav join our team. His excellent skills, experience and market reputation further enhance our credentials as one of the leading law firms in the Czech market.”
For his part, Dubovsky says that he is “thrilled” to be joining Weinhold Legal, noting that the firm’s practices compliment his own, and that it shares the “culture and values” of his previous employers (he spent several years at Linklaters before joining Hogan Lovells in 2001). In addition, he insists, “with my knowledge and experience from international firms, I believe that I can contribute to the future successful development of Weinhold Legal.” He expects to continue working with Hogan Lovells on their deals in the region as well.
The Bittersweet Goodbye: Jaroslawa Johnson Reflects on Chadbourne’s Kiev Closing
The rumors had been swirling for several months, and in early August Chadbourne & Parke, facing what it called a “problematic long-term outlook” for Ukraine, confirmed that it was winding down its operations in the country and would be closing in early autumn.
Jaroslawa Johnson, a Senior Counsel at Chadbourne and the firm’s Managing Partner in Ukraine, admits to being somewhat disappointed at how her two decades in Kiev are coming to a close. “The only constant in life is change,” she notes, “but it’s unfortunate it has to end like this.”
Chadbourne’s decision comes against the backdrop of political upheaval and violence following the bloody Euromaidan revolution this past winter. Johnson, a well-established figure in the legal
market, explains that foreign investors are understandably hesitant about entering the country in the middle of its ongoing conflict with Russia and military actions within its own borders, and thus, while 2013 was a strong year for the office, continued operations simply became impractical. “We depend on foreign investors,” Johnson says, “and there won’t be any for a while.” She’s blunt about the current state of affairs. “Everything is scary,” she sighs. “I don’t expect to see investment for the next 3,4,5 or 6 months. Realistically even 2015 is shot.”
Johnson first started working with clients in Ukraine in 1992 while a partner at Hinshaw Culbertson, though the American firm did not set up an office in the country. Instead, Johnson would, “fly in with clients as needed, work for a few weeks and return to Chicago.” In 1993 she joined Altheimer & Gray to open that firm’s office in Kiev. When Altheimer famously folded in June 2003, its Kiev office was acquired by Chadbourne.
Now that the office is winding down – no new client matters have been accepted for several months – and Johnson expects to have closed the doors for good by October 1st.
The firm’s lawyers, of course, have already begun making other plans. Partner Olga Vorozhbyt – the head of the office’s Dispute Resolution practice – moved over to CMS Cameron McKenna at
the end of June, and in early August Partner Adam Mycyk left the firm for the second time (he returned to Chadbourne in 2012 after 5 years away with CMS Cameron McKenna) to join Dentons. Johnson reports that International Partner Sergiy Onishchenko is also exploring various opportunities, including setting up his own practice.
Asked about her own plans, Johnson reports that she will return to the States, where she will continue her work on a Ukrainian fund board and other boards, and although she plans to reduce the time spent practicing law, she intends to focus her efforts on behalf of various organizations advising Ukrainian businesses seeking opportunities abroad.
In the meantime, now that her time in Kiev is coming to an end, Johnson finds herself walking through the city and remembering the many years she’s spent in the Ukrainian capital. “I’ve always told my husband I want to go home,” she laughs ruefully. “But now I’m having second thoughts.”
The publication was reprinted with the permission of CEELM. For original publication, please follow http://ceelegalmatters.com/index.php/analysis/the-frame/341-musical-chairs-in-cee-some-partners-moving-and-some-firms-moving-out