"A business operating in GR categories will not go to court, will not get involved in a long-term war, but is strategically ready to change the situation on the market" — Oleksandra Pavlenko, Managing Partner at Pavlenko Legal Group, believes
— What services, except for legal services as such, can law firms offer their clients?
— I believe that it is worth developing a product line individually and finding one’s own blue ocean. A unique package offer can be formed in each sphere, which will belong only to you. GR services are such a unique and specific product in our firm.
— To what extent are GR services typical for law firms in Ukraine?
— Non-typical. And in general, in my opinion, law companies are not able to pull off this product so well. The situation that transpired in 2004 forced us to get involved in "semi-political" legal issues: legal proceedings involving politicians, development of draft bills or government acts. One followed another and the client pool began bringing us such projects on a regular basis.
In my opinion, a law company that has decided to develop the GR area and to earn instant success has little chance. A minimum of five years are needed for this service to become competitive and salable. Years will be needed to establish contacts, create a team well received by different political forces and well-oriented within the political framework in general. With the exception of lawyers, the team should include regular-based political analysts and people who accompany PR campaigns. If the issue is promoting draft legislation, it is necessary to understand how to write a draft law, how to promote it, how to get it through parliamentary committees, what work with stakeholders involves, and how to neutralize or, on the contrary, enlist public opinion.
Thus, it is not easy for a law firm to develop a GR direction. I have heard that some colleagues report such plans, but I do not feel strongly about that, as I know what competition in this segment is like.
— What GR services are in demand in Ukraine?
— If we look at the tasks, the solution of which people come with to us, the main business request at present is attributed to formation of the regulatory environment. There are very few requests for law-drafting activities (including government acts). There are cases related to enlisting the state as a co-partner into certain investment projects in terms of public- private partnership. There are definitely requests for work on the draft State Budget, especially at the end of each year. Our country has lived without any dialog between business and government for a rather long time. Points of interaction and success were only in separate segments. Now, many people, understanding that reforms are being implemented in the country and there is request for change, try to incorporate and introduce changes mutually into those issues where the government is not able to adjust legal boundaries independently.
— You are talking about the absence of competition on the part of law firms. And to what extent is the GR sphere actually competitive? Do you feel competition on the part of, for example, business associations or other entities?
— In fact, there are many competitors, but they are not referenced to the legal market. There are teams, whose advertisements you will never see, but they are well-known in GR circles. These are, as a rule, natives of the political world, who having maintained their team and who are tolerant towards the business community and business know they can work out such requests in an effective manner.
Generally, we unite our efforts with those teams when it comes to projects requiring a lot of contacts as well as interaction with many government bodies.
— And what is the price paid or, in other words, what sort of business can afford the services provided by professional GR managers?
— Let's say, not many can afford this. To be more precise, to allow themselves to think this way — a business operating in GR categories will not go to court, will not get involved in a long-term war, but is strategically ready to change the situation on the market.
— It begs the question about delimitation of lobbying and corruption.
— It differs a lot from corruption. We hope that a lobbying culture in our country is finally being formed with the adoption of a special law on lobbying (there are currently two alternative draft laws that have been submitted to Parliament). In this country everyone who approaches Parliament and begins to communicate with MPs somehow falls within the rank of corrupt officials. In fact, when you work publicly (we are striving for this with the introduction of a register of lobbying organizations), when there are business associations on hand able to incorporate certain market players, when you sit down for talks not for the benefit of one player, but in the interests of an entire branch, this means your personal involvement as a negotiator, person who knows how this or that draft bill will be accompanied in Parliament, who works through the entire bureaucratic process. Furthermore, nobody brings someone else a thing; it means exclusively your personal value and trust in that market. Basically, that is the reason why GR fee earnings are rather high.
— Do the proposed draft laws include standards, which will lead the GR market to a civilized direction?
— I can only talk about alternative draft law No. 5144-1. We have correlated it completely with the provisions of anti-corruption laws. It is for our benefit that precisely corrupt officials, who do not want to enter a transparent market, remain behind. We have introduced several tools, which set apart those who work in the lobbying market officially from those who want to remain in the shadows.
I want to emphasize that the issue here will not only be about lobbyists and their activities. This law will also contribute to improving the environment inside Parliament. At present a draft bill simply gets posted on the parliamentary website and it is not clear who is behind it. According to our proposals, the draft law should be supplemented by the opinions of registered lobbyists and sectoral associations. And if after all the discussions a MP vote for an obviously corrupt proposal, the issue will arise of his/her personal responsibility. We would like the Rules of the Verkhovna Rada to be amended on the basis of this idea.
— How would you evaluate the prospects for adoption of this draft law or the alternative to it? Are there currently any lobbyists who favour their non-adoption?
— At the moment the discussion is developing mainly in the media space, and I do not see any fight behind the scenes. Anyhow, the entire professional community is the "customer" of this draft bill. When you work in this niche, you want to very different from the "community workers" and "experts" who have never been involved in lobbying. And I would like professionals to receive the basic right to ask: "And you, actually, who are you and whose interests are you protecting?" We have specified participation in expert television programs as one of the tools of lobbying activity. And everyone from those "accidentally" coming to protect a draft bill or to attack it will have to explain themselves.
— What skills should a law firm and its specialists possess to be successful in GR?
— A great deal depends on the personality of that person who heads this area of work. Only reputation plays a role on this market. The skill to enter different political teams in such a way that you will be heard precisely as an expert is worth a great deal. Team play is in the background here. The issue here is that of the lobbyist's trust and authority: if you enter something, you have to be responsible for your words. You should not rush around from side to side. You should definitely have some political story in your life; you should understand how the world of politics works. Also, there is a great deal of psychology in our work. But, of course, all of this does not exclude legal competence.