This article, authored by Patricia Gannon, was originally published in CEE Legal Matters January 2016 Special Issue
Clearly when the end of year is upon us it's always a time for reflection on what type of year it's been and also a time to plan for the future. This year is no exception, and it's been a record one for the firm, so we share a certain sense of pride at how the team has performed under pressure, especially in the last quarter.
We celebrated 20 years this year, which is no mean feat for a law firm in this part of the world. Sometimes it feels like a much longer time as the pace has been immense and the issues we face on a daily basis are overwhelming, but it's been really rewarding, too.
I am based in Belgrade but very much traveling throughout our offices in the former Yugoslavia. A pleasant change has been the introduction of Air Serbia routes which make travel in the region much easier. One can do Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade in three days now.
For us as a firm this year our highlight has to be our presence in Ljubljana, which is still a start-up but rapidly growing and very successful. The key for all expansion has to be the right leader – which we believe we have – and a great young and motivated team. Today, with eight lawyers at full capacity we will likely have to move office space soon to deal with growth, which is nice. In Zagreb we are consolidating again and ready to face the new challenges ahead of us in 2016. Serbia remains the largest market for us, and it's been a remarkable year. It's been a very difficult one to plan though, as we had anticipated a number of large privatizations and corporate sales to be completed by the end of the year, which has not been the case. Instead the corporate teams are flat out on a number of smaller deals and the usual end-of-year burst of activity has the whole office at full capacity. Of course we expect a quiet January as a result.
Our smaller markets include Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Kosovo, and although all are very different in terms of investment opportunities, as long as they remain politically stable there are interesting clients moving into them, which is keeping our teams busy.
Looking to 2016, I remain upbeat about the region in general, and by streamlining the practices we have regionally I think that it will be a good year for us. Despite the intense competition from international and local firms I know there is a place in the market for an outfit such as ours (and our client feedback confirms it). Like all law firms we work hard to ensure that our product is relevant to today's corporate clients, and that will certainly continue to be our focus in 2016.
The world today is clearly in a state of chaos, and as we all experienced the trail of refugees passing through the Balkans this year I believe this will continue to be a challenge for the region next year. The economies are all slowing, and while they continue to experience growth, it is a fragile growth. Governments need to continue reform processes to ensure job creation and new investment. What is really interesting for me – having been in the region now for 20 years – is the type of investors coming and the different sectors they invest in. Our industry groups work hard to develop better understanding of their industries in order to serve them better, and this is a key feature clients appreciate.
So, in summary, it's always a pleasure to meet with leading law firms and lawyers who work in CEE and SEE and observe the trends that are emerging that will affect the profession and our clients. We all need to be sharp and client-focused.