Active, Operational and Optimistic
In times of aggressive war, the legal landscape in Ukraine undergoes significant changes, presenting unique challenges for law firms and their clients. The nature of legal work has changed and the teams have shrunk. We asked Serhiy Chorny, managing partner, head of banking and finance practice, Baker McKenzie Kyiv office, to tell us about doing legal business in wartime.
How did you organize the operation of your Kyiv office?
Serhiy Chorny (S. C.): Baker McKenzie’s Kyiv Office is fully operational and provides regular services to clients during the wartime. The physical office in the center of Kyiv was not affected by the multiple russian air raids on Ukraine’s capital, although certain residential and other buildings nearby were damaged or partially destroyed. The office premises are available for the employees’ work although we advise our staff to avoid significant gatherings in the office and recommend remote work for safety considerations. Temporarily, we do not receive clients and other visitors in the office. The office building benefits from an underground shelter, which is used by our employees during air raids.
What is the role of the firm’s global leadership? We’ve heard that, in general, international law firms relocated their teams to other offices. What about Baker McKenzie?
S. C.: Currently, two thirds of the Kyiv Office’s employees (as well as myself) remain in and work from Ukraine’s capital. The other colleagues temporarily reside in and work from a number of European capitals where Baker McKenzie’s Offices are located, including Warsaw, London and Berlin, as well from cities and towns in the central and western Ukraine. The global Firm provides efficient support to the temporarily relocated employees and their families, and also enable their uninterrupted remote work for clients from various locations.
The significant decline of the Ukrainian economy has had an impact on transactional activity and budgets for legal services. How has your office been affected by this in terms of your practice portfolios?
S. C.: At present, the busiest practices in Kyiv are corporate/M&A, employment, banking and finance and tax. Although the volume of transactional work has decreased dramatically as compared to the pre-war period, we still assist international and domestic clients with a dozen of deals primarily in corporate reorganization and financial debt restructuring areas, especially in the manufacturing, pharma and agricultural sectors. Some of this work involves our competition law experts. We expect the volume of such transactional work to increase significantly once Ukraine’s victory and end to the war gets closer. Because of numerous business reorganizations and relocations, our employment and tax practices are constantly busy with relevant client requests. Traditionally, our dispute resolution colleagues are busy and continue to work in the courts of all levels, including those proceedings which are held in the other cities of Ukraine (although traveling through Ukraine these days is often a challenge). Our trade/commerce practice provides sanctions-related advice on almost a daily basis. Also, our IP department is traditionally busy and trademark and other IP disputes work does not cease. Finally, we were involved in a number of very significant pro bono projects, including completing certain sections of the Questionnaire related to Ukraine’s EU candidacy and developing the legislation for the determination and compensation of the environmental damage caused by the russian intervention.
What about your banking and finance workflow?
S. C.: As regards our banking and finance practice, the war has brought a sharp decrease in transactional work and increase in regulatory consulting services, especially those related to sanctions and restrictions on cross-border settlements during the martial law. However, we are reasonably busy with a debt restructuring transaction for a leading Ukrainian grain exporter, assist an international financial institution on a project funding the reconstruction of residential housing in a number of Ukrainian cities, and provide an ongoing advice to German banks on their pre-war secured loan facility to a major wind power producer in Ukraine. And there is a relatively constant flow of regulatory work for Ukrainian commercial banks, international payment systems and securities custodians. So, on balance, the practice is active and efficient and continues to provide premier quality services to Ukrainian and international financial institutions and corporate borrowers.
We all recall that a number of prominent firms left the Ukrainian market after 2014. What is your global management’s stance on this?
S. C.: Our global Firm’s management and the Kyiv office’s Partners are looking forward with optimism at the development of Ukraine’s business environment and legal market after the war. We receive continuous support from the global Firm, and hold weekly meetings with the Firm’s management aiming at resolving various operational issues as well as specific assistance requests of our employees (related to medical support, relocation, etc.). Our Firm has established a special fund, formed by donations from our colleagues from the Firm Offices across the globe, which helps our employees and their families that suffered from the russian intervention, including the provision of financial support for recovering the damaged residential premises and medical treatment. The Firm’s and the Office’s management do all things possible to retain and ensure safety of our talent so as to keep them ready for the active work on rebuilding Ukraine’s business environment after the war.
Recently, the Kyiv partners have changed the composition of the office’s leadership to ensure proper focus on the development goals during the war and thereafter, and have re-elected Serhiy Chorny and elected Vyacheslav Yakymchuk (respectively, a banking/finance and M&A partners) as the office’s co-managing partners. We keep our professional staff energetic, well trained and ready for the coming significant business operations in Ukraine soon.