Denis Vasiliev: How to choose a corporate lawyer in Russia?
How do you choose a lawyer to represent your interests in court, prepare contracts, verify the purity of transactions, and ensure compliance? What do you do if you need a trusted, competent firm, but the services of the Big Four are too expensive? Any company with an interest in quality legal support at a reasonable price asks itself these questions. We asked Denis Vasilev, partner at Podolsky Vasiliev Klein, to help us answer them. Vasilev has spent more than 20 years working with major Russian and international companies on issues of corporate restructuring, taxation, contract law and court representation.
What advice will we receive from an expert who has deep inside knowledge of how the legal system functions?
The professionalism of a lawyer is a delicate matter. In practice, neither the number of cases won in court, nor the number of successfully closed transactions, nor his or her reputation will guarantee the right result for your company. Names appearing frequently on the pages of business newspapers and at the top of internet search results could objectively signify that such lawyers and their teams are good at marketing. And nothing more.
The extent to which lawyers are client-focused, experienced, and erudite, as well as able to think beyond the boundaries of what’s proposed and anticipate conflicts is something you will find out only after you begin working with them. And you may find yourself disappointed.
Research by the Expert rating agency and a number of industry websites bring a certain degree of objectivity in evaluating the quality of law firms in Russia. However, they also only give an approximate idea of who is on the market and what they offer; in most cases, it’s impossible to verify the information provided by law firms. Even going to a firm in the Top 10 doesn’t necessarily mean that you will served by an expert who is well versed in your particular issue.
The only absolutely proven method of verifying the competency of a lawyer on your own is to use the legal case index on website of the Federal Arbitration Courts of Russia – https://kad.arbitr.ru/. This index provides information on the cases in which an expert has been involved, including the legal rulings on them. This works if you need a lawyer to represent your interests in court, but what about other types of needs?
You can’t count on an impartial third-party assessment of a Russian law firm’s qualifications, which means that we must be guided by a subjective assessment. This is exactly what you need!
Three ways to find a first-class lawyer in Russia
- Ask your partners from Russia
Start by surveying colleagues from your field. Their experience in hiring lawyers to solve problems similar to yours provides the most important and interesting insight. Foreign companies already working in the country will find it easiest to use this method. If you are only just entering the market, ask counterparties that are either based in Russia or that are doing business with Russian companies.
- Find out from Russian accounting services provider
Your local outsourcing provider can be one source of useful recommendations. They know the market for legal services and will tell you who might prove useful for you to work with and how. Outsourcing providers can solve clients’ basic legal issues themselves, and for the more complex issues, they turn to law firms. This is how we work with Alinga Consulting Group, for example.
- Ask your current legal services provider
Most serious legal services providers belong to international professional associations, for example, the International Business Law Consortium (IBLC) and the Trans-European Law Firm Alliance (TELFA), among others. These associations have reciprocal internal control procedures and common standards for providing services, and their members know and work with one another. When looking for a lawyer as you enter the Russian market, ask your current legal services provider. They will recommend a respected member of the association who works in Russia.
Before making a final decision, check all of the law firms recommended to you by using formal, objective criteria: region, size, area of specialization, existence of international clients or clients from your industry, court cases won and prepared transactions, website completeness, and an office occupied by experts. When selecting a provider of legal services, get to know the lawyers who will work with you beforehand. Learn about their education, achievements, and their experience working with companies in your industry.
We are looking for a law firm at the right price that doesn’t compromise on quality
Given that the Russian market for legal services today is tightly connected internationally, even large foreign businesses have alternatives to expensive consultants from KPMG, PwC, E&Y and Deloitte.
When comparing any Big Four company with a law firm from IBLC and similar associations, there is obviously a significant difference in size, business structure and cost of services, but not in quality.
Law firms that belong to IBLC work under their own names, while those in a Big Four company work under general names. There are many layers of management and stages of approval in the Big Four. This naturally slows down the process of resolving a client’s issues and often increases the cost without justification given that consultants work on an hourly fee structure. Managing partners focus on the largest clients, such as transnational oil and metals companies; the rest are supervised by their subordinates, who change periodically.
Firms belonging to IBLC usually have few layers of management. Clients personally know the top leaders, and managing partners have knowledge of all their clients’ matters. The decision-making process is quick. These law firms outsource a lot of their work, have great expertise, and bring star consultants on board when needed rather than keeping them on staff. This means that their fees are lower.
The quality of their services is completely comparable. Members of professional networks actively share knowledge with one another, and they actively train their employees using industry best practice.
Therefore, my main recommendation for companies looking for a lawyer in Russia is to be mindful of the different options for legal support that are available. Doing so will make it easier for you to choose a reliable, reasonably priced legal partner who is the right fit for your challenges.
Watch a video presentation by Denis Vasiliev “Deoffshorization in Russia” (in Russian)