"Working in the style of a boutique law firm makes it possible to keep a work-life balance and be highly profitable" VOLODYMYR VASHCHENKO, PARTNER AT VB PARTNERS, DISCLOSED THE MOTIVES OF CONCENTRATION ON PRACTICES OF WHITE-COLLAR CRIME AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION
— What directions do players on the legal services market evolve into?
— The modern market does not like universal players. The law firm has only two ways of development: to enlarge and grow into a full-service company or to become a boutique concentrating on one or several areas. The first and most important strategy to effectively promote professional services is the strategy of specialization. There was no need for specialization ten years ago. Everything changed after the crises, which intensified competition, and with the development of modern technologies which eliminate the need for simple mediation. Computers are already more effective in standard cases than people, but they are not yet able to compete with them in creativity and imagination.
We built a legal boutique with a focus on White-Collar Crime (including Interpol interaction and extradition) and Dispute Resolution. Possessing unique experience in these areas, we provide effective solutions in conflicts with the state or unscrupulous business.
The boutique differs from most law firms in its individual, non-conveyor service approach, which is commonly found in the work of legal "supermarkets". The entire management of the company always thinks through every project of the client.
I believe that boutique companies will continue to strengthen their positions. There are all the prerequisites for this: the investment of large funds in personnel training, information technologies, special customer care approaches.
— In what cases is it more expedient for a law firm to focus on one practice or a limited number of related practices?
— It is legal for everyone to make a choice independently. For us, the boutique format is attractive for the reason that working in the style of a boutique law firm makes it possible to keep a work-life balance and, at the same time, be highly profitable. The concept of a boutique is also pleasing for us as professionals, because we can provide extra-class services and claim for priority in WCC practice.
— What moves demand for the White-Collar Crime practice in Ukraine?
— There are several factors in demand generation. The first and most crucial factor is that classic corruption practices that dominated throughout the years of the country's independence have become obsolete.
The second is the constant change of power, which entails a change in leadership positions in law-enforcement agencies and, as a result, a review of previous working practices and "uninvestigated" cases.
The third factor is the emergence of an anti-corruption infrastructure, which actually created a new market for lawyers.
These changes in the country initiated the client into understanding that success in a criminal case is primarily a legal position, and not friendship with a prosecutor or judge. Business realized that it wrongly defined GR.
I am confident that the practice will further flourish under the influence of these factors, and law-enforcement officers will demonstrate professionalism and effectiveness in their work.
— What issues do your company’s clients give you to tackle?
— I would single out three key groups in the WCC practice today.
The first group embraces cases where the state pursues a business or a specific person. We now work mainly with shareholders and top management of banks, which, as a result of financial difficulties and changes in the country, were closed. The peculiarity of such cases is that it is necessary to simultaneously work in several jurisdictions. Money knows no bounds. In one of these cases we have various criminal trials in six European jurisdictions.
The second group consists of cases where we represent the interests of victims of corporate fraud and unfair counterparties, in general. This is just as interesting. This requires experience in the search for assets, building a quality base, because corporate fraudsters or unscrupulous counterparties will never provide a direct opportunity to prove that they are de facto criminals. Ukraine ranks 6th in the world rating in terms of corporate fraud. Even foreign companies with a developed system of business procedures and compliance policies encounter this negative phenomenon in practice.
The third group consists of cases related to international criminal law, search issues, removal from Interpol’s wanted list, challenging decisions in Interpol appellate commissions and extraditions. This is an absolutely new trend for Ukraine, and is already a very active one. We already have experience of challenging the extradition of a citizen of the Russian Federation from Poland at the request of the Republic of Belarus. There is no need to be an international law expert. The rules are universal, and a Ukrainian lawyer can actually provide services to a citizen of another country.
As for the Dispute Resolution practice in general, the main engine of its development in recent years has been the state authorities and the prosecutor's office. The former initiated a huge number of legal disputes, including in the area of control of business activities. Businesses also face illegal inaction and politically motivated decisions on the part of the authorities, parliamentary commissions, etc. Prosecution agencies actually regained the right of access to courts even in the absence of reasonable causes for representation. Unfortunately, courts misapply the legislative changes of 2015 and have not developed a rigid approach to assessing the adequacy of grounds for the public prosecutor to represent the state’s interests in court.
This has a negative effect on the investment climate and investment attractiveness of Ukraine.
— What complementary practices are needed by a law firm specializing in criminal defense?
— The main competitive advantages of a legal boutique over "sole solicitors" are that we not only have a high level of expertise and unique experience in criminal law. It is very important for a strong WCC practice to have additional expertise in areas like corporate law, administrative law, private international law, and civil law in a broad sense. A court decision in an administrative or civil case is often an obstacle that will not allow a criminal case to develop further. In the modern context, WCC also requires knowledge of English law, the principles of building corporate structures in different jurisdictions, the bases of not only national taxation law, but also the principles of international taxation.
Team work at the level of collaboration ensures participation in what is happening, a departure from formalism and the willingness of team members to assume increased responsibility and make quick decisions. It’s also important that each team member should have his or her own "shtick" on issues of extradition, corporate investigations, etc.
In addition, we also clearly understand the business processes of our clients, the rules of the corporate world, the specifics of the work of foreign companies and national business. The world around us is changing, and we are developing together with it, constantly learning and improving. We must be on the same wavelength with business.