Alexander Kifak, Managing Partner, ANK Law Office

“In reality all maritime cases are handled between 2-3 law firms based in Odessa”

What are three key features of the legal market in Odessa and Southern Ukraine? How does the economy determine the specialization of regional legal counsels?

I always reiterate that Odessa has a unique geographic location: this is the place of the biggest Ukrainian ports, where the port business is concentrated. Here we have the biggest open air market in Eastern Europe, where about 30,000 individual entrepreneurs do their business. In Odessa and Mykolayiv Regions we have leading Ukrainian wineries, small and middle-size agricultural households. Main Ukrainian shipyards, shipping and crew companies are located in Odessa, Mykolayiv and Kherson. All these factors do have an impact on the legal market in Southern Ukraine. That is why we have strong maritime, port infrastructure, maritime insurance and agricultural practices.

Do you face competition from law firms based in Kyiv or from the offices of international law firms?

It depends what you mean by the term “competition”. For example, last year we noticed that some Kyiv-based law firms declared that they practice maritime law. However, in reality all maritime cases are handled between 2-3 law firms based in Odessa. Nobody finds maritime or port lawyers in Kyiv. Another trend in recent years is that a lot of young and ambitious lawyers resigned top/leading law firms and opened their own practices. We are aware that they propose clients significantly lower hourly rates and sometimes clients give preferences to these offers.

What challenges do you face as a regional firm?

Sometimes the infrastructure project in Southern Ukraine (for example, construction of new marine terminal in the port) is officially supported by a Kyiv-based law firm or international law office, not a regional one, because the final decision on the engagement of lawyers  is taken in Kyiv. It is because the headquarters of an international company (the investor) is located in Kyiv or, in the case of legal support for a financing institution, because the EIB, EBRD or IFC decision-makers are sat in London or Washington. In reality Kyiv law offices usually sub-contract work to a regional law firm, who knows the local business climate better and so can be more effective compared with a Kyiv-based or an international law firm. We have a similar situation when a company whose main business is in Kyiv decides to broaden its business to the regions. In that case they prefer to delegate legal work to their “home-based” legal counsel instead of engaging a new law firm based in Odessa, Mykolayiv or Kherson.