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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of practical and legislative changes. Still, even if the virus complicated the overall environment (to which other factors contributed, such as elections followed by a change of government), Romania remains a place with significant business opportunities.

In “The Corner Office” we ask Managing Partners at law firms across Central and Eastern Europe about their backgrounds, strategies, and responsibilities. The question this time: “What did you most want to be when you were little?”

Annual reports make up a fundamental part of many regional CEE law firms’ marketing strategies, providing those firms with an annual opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a particular area, their geographic footprints, and their ownership and facility with the research and technological tools and manpower necessary for the production of such comprehensive projects.

“What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start.” This popular joke underlines the low public perception of lawyers that remains common in today’s society. Although distrust toward lawyers has always existed, frivolous lawsuits, rising billing rates, and thrilling reports of lawyers behaving badly in the news do little to improve the public image of attorneys, especially in CEE.

The Vienna Stock Exchange was founded in 1771, during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. Initially launched as a market for state-issued bonds – only bonds, bills of exchange, and foreign currencies could be traded – it expanded rapidly. In 1818, the Austrian central bank – which had itself been founded only two years earlier – became the first joint-stock company to be listed on the exchange (and one of the first shareholders was Ludwig van Beethoven, who bought eight shares in 1819). In 1863, the Suez Canal Company had become the first foreign company to be listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange, and in 1865, there was a further foreign listing with premium bonds issued to fund Turkish railway lines (“Turkenlose”). When the Frankfurter Bankverein applied for a listing of the Turkenlose bonds on the VSE, the Exchange Chamber decided to introduce rules for the admission of foreign securities, and thus, in 1873, the “Italian bond” became the first official foreign listing by means of a formal application. In December 1997, the Vienna Stock Exchange Chamber was merged with the Austrian Futures and Options Exchange to form a new exchange operating company, Wiener Borse AG, and in subsequent years the business spectrum of the Vienna Stock Exchange broadened to include market data dissemination and index calculation as well as IT services and central securities depository services.

The global COVID-19 crisis has led to a significant change in the field of M&A, both in Austria, and worldwide. In my more-than-twenty years of experience, I have not seen anything change the Austrian legal market so incredibly. Starting in March 2020, as a first step, several transactions in Austria were at least temporarily put on hold. As a result, the total number of transactions decreased in 2020. However, this trend was not unique to Austria, but represents a worldwide paradigm shift caused by increased uncertainty about the future of business.

Starting from modest beginnings in the small Hungarian city of Eger, Agnes Molnar’s career has taken her across the world, from small local law firms to the Magic Circle, from state entities to global banks, and from Budapest to London to Vienna to Montreal. Now, some 10,000 kilometers away from her home country, she is a Partner at Travers Thorpe Alberga in the Cayman Islands. If, as the Chinese proverb has it, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, Molnar is already half-way there.

The COVID-19 crisis continues to plague much of Europe. To get an overview of its effects across CEE – both on investment in the region and on the legal industry itself – we reached out to the members of Pontes the CEE Lawyers legal alliance, a Regional Sponsor at the upcoming Dealer’s Choice International Law Firm Summit.

I started practicing law in the mid-1990s, during a turbulent period in Serbia’s recent history. Corporate law, however, really took off in 2001 when the country opened its doors, after a full decade of isolation. Even then, it was unlike other Eastern European countries – instead of a stampede by major global law firms opening local offices in the hope of landing big privatization deals, only a few regional outfits sauntered into town to test the waters of the newly accessible Serbian legal market.

While reading an article from the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of the Harvard Business Review, I had the distinct impression that someone had read my mind. The article dealt with a study conducted by Christine Exley and Judd Kessler on the subject of self-promotion among men and women, which the researchers believed to be an understudied behavior that could have important implications for labor market outcomes.

Romania lies on the historically and geographically significant crossroads between the East and the West and both its roads and its waterways provide important routes for commerce between continents. It is no wonder, then, that the transportation, logistics, and infrastructures sectors in Romania offer high potential for growth and profit. The prospect of harnessing this potential has attracted investors from around the world – and law firms positioned to help them succeed. Danilescu Hulub & Partners, founded by Partners Lucian Danilescu and Andreea Hulub in April, 2020, is one such firm.

Analyses of the practical and economic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the legal profession are abundant, and not much new can be added. Similarly, considerations of the economy and business in general are also often covered with elaborate views of the current situation and familiar projections of often gloomy futures.

On December 15, 2020 CEELM gathered legal experts from across the region for its annual Year-in-Review Round Table conversation. In a wide-ranging discussion, participants shared opinions and perspectives on their markets, on strong (and less-strong) practices across the region, and the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on both, as well as on how technology is changing the legal industry, and what the industry will look like in 2021.

Within days of the coronavirus’s arrival in March, the Polish government was scrambling to react, with lockdowns, subsidies and stimulus, public health requirements, and other measures coming rapidly, on an ad hoc basis, with the need for speed making it difficult for Polish companies (and Poles in general) to keep up, and forming a patchwork of ideas rather than a comprehensive and coherent plan.

The legal market in Europe is ever-changing, but now, as we approach the turn of the year, there is no doubt we are at a pivotal moment. One could say that the tide has risen and the world of legal services as we know it is gone. While it would be easy to blame everything on the pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis has merely accelerated certain processes that have been swelling up and ready to burst for quite some time. The trends we have been observing have just gained momentum. It is essential that law firms accept the challenges and prudently navigate the dangers.

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