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The novel coronavirus has sent markets into a tailspin and forced the scrapping of many plans for this business year. Commercial law firms, their businesses closely tied to the way economies ebb and flow, have been forced to adapt. This global phenomenon is in some ways particularly poignant in Greece, which was finally, after a decade of darkness, showing signs of returning to the light. Commercial Greek law firms, excited about the prospects of a highly-anticipated economic recovery, have discovered they’ll have to wait just a little bit longer. Still, they insist, good times are just around the corner.

I was born in Moldova and obtained my first degree in law from a Moldovan university 20 years ago. Since its independence in 1991, Moldova – a small landlocked country located between Ukraine in the East and Romania in the West – has struggled to survive, being torn apart by various geopolitical interests, political havoc, corruption, and economic fluidity. The legal industry has struggled as well. Although a lot has changed in my time as a lawyer, I cannot confidently say that the legal industry in Moldova has witnessed tremendous growth.

When I was asked to write this editorial by CEE Legal Matters I started to wonder how I could describe the current situation in Central and Eastern Europe. The first half of the year will definitely remain marked by the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, this editorial will not be focused on the pandemic, on measures taken (or not taken) by the governments in the region, or on what the consequences will be. Instead, I will try to provide an overview of the market, specifically as it relates to our business in this part of the world – and how I expect it to develop in the years to come.

In March of 2019, relative unknown Zuzana Caputova won the Slovakian Presidential election, becoming the first woman and – at 45 – the youngest person ever to hold that office. With a background as an environmental lawyer and human rights activist, Caputova is largely viewed in Slovakia as a unifier, taking strong and reasonable approaches to even apparently intractable problems. Her success has inspired a degree of hope for the future from her former peers and colleagues in Slovakia’s legal community.

In 2009, deep in the throes of the global financial crisis, Mykola Stetsenko, a partner at Baker & McKenzie in Kyiv, stepped away from that secure position to start his own law firm. His ambitious move paid off, and now, eleven years later, the firm he launched – Avellum – is among the most successful and highly regarded in Ukraine.

Over the past few years CMS advised the OTP Bank Group on an extensive series of acquisitions across Bulgaria, Moldova, and former Yugoslavia. This series of separate deals was shortlisted for CEE Legal Matters’ CEE Deal of the Year in each of the countries involved, actually winning the 2018 Deal of the Year for Bulgaria and the 2019 Deal of the Year Award for Montenegro. We reached out to Eva Talmacsi, who led CMS’s multi-jurisdictional team, to learn more about the firm’s impressive work on OTP’s behalf.

The Spring of 2020 brought the pandemic to CEE, with its “perfect storm” of ingredients – including significant legal ramifications. Whether you are an individual, a business, or a governmental official, the storm made you ask at least one of these questions: “What are my rights in pre-existing contract?”, “Am I still bound to pay?”, “Can I get my money back?”, “Will I be liable for this?”, and “What legislation is needed to help ease the impact on the public?” 

“In terms of national politics, when it comes to Latvia, the word of the day is ‘stability,'“ says Raimonds Slaidins, Senior Partner at Ellex Klavins in Riga. “The current coalition government has been in power for about one and a half years now, and other than the COVID-19 crisis this has been a good, stable period of time for us — there aren’t any indications that something might change in the near future regarding the national government.“

For our new “Checking In” feature, we reach out to partners and heads of practice across CEE to learn how specific practice areas are faring in their jurisdictions. For this inaugural piece, we asked firm Real Estate experts: "What effect do you think the COVID-19 crisis will have on the real estate market in your jurisdiction this year, and what do think will be the longer-term repercussions?"

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