Regional Players. Flex Muscles

Year III - Issue 8 - September 2010. The legal magazine Top Legal International. Magisters and Grata believe they can compete with international rivals in the pan-CIS market and have their eyes on further expansion, by Heather O'Brian

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has attracted a number of international law firms. Scores have come to set up offices in Moscow, while Kyiv and Kazakhstan have also been targeted. Even if they end up in less popu­lated outposts in the CIS, international firms have not been given a blank check to colonize the mar­ket. National law firms have also set up shop and some have gained a strong reputation with inter­national clients. In recent years, some of the leading national play­ers have also begun to pursue re­gional growth strategies, giving the U.S. and Western European law firms stiff competition on the ground.

One of these is Magisters. The firm has more than 100 lawyers, including 13 partners. Founded in 1997 in Kyiv, the firm grew domestically before embarking on a CIS-wide expansion in 2006 through the merger with Russian firm Leas Legal Solution. That was the first-ever cross-border merger between independent law firms in the CIS and gave Magisters a Moscow office as well. Magisters last year opened in the Belarus capital Minsk following the merger with Belarusian law firm BelJurBureau, and set up for business in the Kazakhstan capital Astana. The firm also has a representative office in London and is unlikely to stop there.

"We are still looking for other opportunities to expand," notes Dimitry Dyakin, managing part­ner of the firm's Moscow office. "For example, St. Petersburg and Azerbaijan could be on our ra­dar." Current plans are to launch a new office within two years, although that time line could be reconsidered given the still uncertain economic backdrop.

When Magisters makes the move, international arbitration and litigation will almost certainly form a key part of the new office's workload. "Magisters traditional­ly has a very strong international arbitration and litigation practice and in all jurisdictions we tend to start off with that," explains Mr Dyakin.

The focus is not obvious. Mr Dyakin notes that this practice area is one which international law firms in the region have only started to look at recently. "For the last 15 years, international law firms in Moscow ignored dis­pute resolution and litigation be­cause it was seen as too risky and now these law firms are starting to build up teams and practices. Probably this is because the court system is more experienced and is seen now as being more reliable and predictable."

Alongside this practice, Magis­ters also concentrates on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and gen­eral corporate law work. It is also focused on infrastructure and publicprivate partnership work in the region. Magisters has also begun more actively to cultivate clients in Germany and Germanspeaking countries like Austria and Switzerland, with the launch of a German desk. "We see that German clientele is a very con­servative audience," notes Mr Dyakin. "But if you get German clients, it almost means forever."

In those CIS countries where Magisters has no office the firm is covered through its partner­ships with other leading inde­pendent firms. Magisters last year created the informal Best Friends Network for the CIS and Geor­gia. Magisters alone covers Rus­sia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kaza­khstan. The firms of Ameria, Kalikova & Associates, MGB Law Offices, Mgaloblishvili Kipiani Dzidziguri and Turcan & Turcan are respectively members for Armenia, Krgvzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. It is also possible that a law firm from Uz­bekistan could join the network in the future.

Mr. Dyakin believes that the economic backdrop for legal work in the region is slowly improving. "We are witnessing a sort of stabilization where transactional prac­tices are coming back and dispute resolution practices are still quite steady," he notes.

Whether a firm is classified as international or not, Mr Dyakin believes all the leading firms are following similar strategies in the region as they seek to compete. "First of all, you compete on the partner level, where the partner is attracted by bigger profitability figures. So we are trying to con­centrate on profitability and to at­tract lawyers by offering stability and long-term growth prospects as well." 

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