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National Express

Date of publication: 2 December 2019

Source: Yurydychna Praktyka

“Success of any ukrainian law firm is not possible without large national clients”, – thinks Mikhail Ilyashev, Managing Partner at Ilyashev & Partners Law Firm.

— What distinguishes your firm and your business model from those of other players in the Ukrainian legal services market?

— Our business model implies the employee loyalty. We do a lot to ensure that the best employees stay with us for many years. If you look at the average period of employment in our company, you will see that it is significantly longer than that of our competitors. We also strongly support the entrepreneurial employees, helping them to implement their ideas.

As to strategic things: I think that the distinguishing feature of our company is the development of its own network to be closer to our clients. We strive to become the only point of sale of legal services for our clients and satisfy all their needs as regards the legal services. Our regional offices allow us to render legal services whenever and wherever they are needed, both to local clients, Kyiv-based and foreign companies with particular interests in a particular region. This helps the client to reduce costs and save time, since there is a number of issues that will not wait until a lawyer or attorney arrives from Kyiv.

We managed to develop the largest network representation among the Ukrainian law firms. Recently we opened one more office in Odessa.

— How effective are the regional offices in sales? Are the local businesses interested in working with a large and rather expensive law firm?

— The price issue is the most sensitive. Our rates, of course, are higher than the average price of local lawyers. Yet, however, they correspond to those of the leading local law firms. But there are services that the local players cannot provide.

I do understand to certain extent our peer competitors who do not develop their regional networks: the legal market is concentrated in Kyiv, and the costs required to open and further maintain a regional office are often not comparable with the income it can generate. Yet, each law firm has its own path of development, its own strategy, and if it is successful, then its path is right. No single approach exists here.

— What is the value of Odesa office for the firm?

— All our offices are the full-fledged business units with regular lawyers and attorneys rendering the requested legal services. Odesa is a large city with, unlike many other cities, many strong local legal market players. This means that there is business and there are clients, and, therefore, there is a place for us.

The distinctiveness of the legal market in Odesa lies in its focus on shipping, commodity trading, and port infrastructure. These are the fields our office will be working in. Such practices will strengthen the firm as a whole. In addition, we will certainly provide a full range of legal services in Odesa, ranging from consultations on labor law to representation in court and defense within a framework of the criminal proceedings. Should the local expertise not be enough, we will be able to render the appropriate services from our central office, since Odessa is not so far.

Moreover, the activities of Odesa office will cover the entire southern region, including Mykolaiv and Kherson Regions, which have similar economic priorities.

— Do you have any plans for further expansion, getting access to the legal market of Western Ukraine, tapping new jurisdictions?

— We have no plans for Western Ukraine so far. Neither we plan to enter new jurisdictions. As long as we don’t have an understanding of what we will do in the new place, what the new office will give the firm, we won’t open it. Yet, we promptly respond to a changing situation, and if a decision is made, we implement it very quickly.

The Ukrainian legal market is quite cramped, the economy is fragile, and the ambitions of law firms exceed the capabilities of the local market. This forces certain law firms to seek the development beyond Ukraine.

Yet everything stems from the clients. If Ukrainian business develops around the world, I am pretty sure that Ukrainian law firms will follow it, just like the international law firms came to Ukraine following their clients that invested in our economy. The development of all foreign law firms in Ukraine was primarily based on their own clients from their native jurisdictions that entered the Ukrainian market.

And the success of any Ukrainian law firm is not possible without the presence of large national Ukrainian clients. International clients, of course, are very important as well, since they, being sophisticated consumers of legal services, force the law firms to adhere to the best working standards. However, having no national clients, the Ukrainian law firm, in my understanding, has no future.

— Your company is developing by increasing expertise and heading in new directions. Which practices do you plan to develop next, and which should be finally rejected, if any?

— We are developing as a full-service firm and do not plan to abandon any directions, – there are no fields in the Ukrainian legal market that would completely lose their importance. We intend to strengthen the medical law practice, but we have to acknowledge the lack of appropriate legal professionals in Ukraine. Interesting prospects open up in the employment law field. As already mentioned, we are actively developing the maritime law, commodities and insurance practices.

Given the processes taking place in our country, we may predict that the demand for criminal defence will increase, thus, it remains a priority for further strengthening. Additional work for the lawyers can be also generated by the land market opening.

— What competitive tools do the law firms use in Ukraine?

—  We have to note that the Ukrainian law firms have been recently competing mainly in the pricing segment. We are not going to support this. We believe that high-quality services cannot be cheap, and a new client cannot get better conditions as compared to the old one. We hire the best lawyers, and they should receive a decent reward.

Price competition, and the overt dumping sometimes, is a time bomb set under the legal business. Cutting on rates, the law firm is forced to save on costs. And the main expense item here is wages. In order to dump and still make some money, one will have to pay less to its lawyers, and the best will leave. And those who have not dumped will be able to attract the best personnel by offering them better rewards.

Ideally, the law firms should compete with each other by improving the quality of their services, improving approaches to work and providing a unique expertise. The law firms can also compete in timing. Time is the most valuable resource and by reducing the time needed to prepare a report or consultation, – yet ensuring the high quality of work – the law firms can reduce client’s costs.

There can be no single correct competing concept. You just have to find your own special working style and stand out in the market, and then you will be able to find your client. All clients are different, with their own needs and priorities. One needs a concrete solution, while other expects to hear the risks only; some expect the lawyer to come up with an offer, while others consider this to be a hard sell. The law firm will not be able to blend with each client; otherwise, it risks failing to find itself and lose its client. I am sure that there is a huge number of ways leading to the legal Olympus, but the quality of service and decency should always remain unchanged. There is no success without them.