"Very soon clients will pay not only for professionalism, but also for a personalized service tailored to their needs"SERHIY SVIRIBA, CO-MANAGING PARTNER AT ASTERS LAW FIRM, IS CONVINCED
— What set the trends in the development of Ukrainian legal services market in 2018?
— If we talk about work, the trend is definitely set by the state and state-owned companies. Criminal practice, judicial, arbitration, tax disputes, all regulatory areas are now experiencing their best times. Transactional and project (energy, construction, project financing) work, including with the participation of institutional investors, is gradually coming back and bringing the market out of a half-dead condition.
As for the current state of the market and development as a whole, it is determined by intensification of competition, the need to follow legislative and global trends, including approaches to the formation of legal products, as well as alternative pricing and dumping as part of it.
A separate problem for which the market needs to be united on and take a clear position is the identification of the lawyer with the client. The market still remains in the "shadow", although some improvements are observed.
People, the main engine of business, are changing as well. The new generation of lawyers is no longer tempted by partner preferences as it was before. The work-life balance and the ability to work from anywhere in the world is a trend which "dinosaurs" will have to accept.
— What, in your opinion, is the basis of the wave of mergers of law firms in Ukraine?
— Splitting was replaced by unity for one simple reason — a client needs, in some way, an "all-powerful" advisor. Anyone who, for example, running something criminal, will be able to close tax, labor, land issues and, if necessary, go to arbitration. I mean, one lawyer may not be a jack-of-all-trades. I think only a full-service firm can provide a team of professionals in their field, working in conjunction.
The fight for clients is becoming increasingly tough, so a merger is kind of a trick. Instead of developing practices from scratch, firms merge and reinforce certain areas.
— Have you already felt the synergy effect?
— I think we’ll be able to talk about visible results in a year or two. The main thing is to build internal processes. At this stage, we can safely say that our merger has become a trigger for geographic expansion — the recent opening of the Brussels office and future expansion into Europe.
We went for this merger to strengthen the competitive advantages that Asters has on the market. Now, the main task for us is to create new capacities, restructure the system to improve internal efficiency, improve the firm's marketing strategy and communication flows.
— What legal products are in demand?
— Most of the standard, routine work remains with in-house lawyers, clients turn to lawyers for help with global projects and for them to solve urgent problem or provide an unorthodox approach. So-called trouble-shooting and deal-making is work that will not fall in price and will remain in demand. The lawyer becomes a business consultant who helps a company to make strategic decisions and become stronger.
In five years time a law firm will be a symbiosis of lawyers, managers, IT specialists and analysts.
Legal tech, which is now being actively discussed and "looked at", is too early to be applied to the most popular products, but I think this is something that will change the profession in the near future.
— How ready are law firms to change their product line?
— We live in a unique time of change and just have to be ready for anything. The main thing is to determine the need for a particular product in time and form the client's understanding of the need for it, constantly have one’s finger on the pulse, communicate with business, and not be afraid to abandon the ballast of non-working products. What seemed like a brilliant idea yesterday may be of no use to anyone today.
I'm sure that all participants of the legal market will face serious changes in coming years. Software has already been developed that not just reads, but also correctly interprets intricate texts written in "legal language". Artificial intelligence is trained with each new document and significantly reduces the need for a "living lawyer's" services. Most likely, it is thanks to technologies that justice should become more accessible, and the cost of legal services will have to be revised.
Very soon clients will pay not only for professionalism, but also for a personalized service tailored to their needs.
— Is it a question of adapting to the needs of clients, or does the initiative to promote new types of legal services come from law firms?
— It is important to remember that the client doesn't always know about the problem and can clearly identify what kind of product he needs. I will say even more: the client may not know at all what he needs. For example, companies didn't know and think about anti-corruption compliance, FCPA and its consequences a few years ago. Lawyers, who saw prospects in this area, were able to convince clients of its importance and gained experience, and we can now reap the benefits.
In addition, we must remember that the legal market of Ukraine is full of professionals, so the ability of law firm to attract attention will play the greatest role in terms of having a competitive advantage. You need to be able to stand out from the crowd. It is increasingly difficult for clients to decide whom precisely to ask for help in compliance with all the rules of the game – quality, cost, and timing. Without a thought-out marketing strategy, it will be difficult for firms to swim out. This worked out pretty well for Asters. I can safely say that our marketing department is the strongest in the country right now.
— How would you describe the portrait of a client in 2018? How close is it to an ideal?
— The client is becoming more demanding and capricious; therefore, we improve the quality of services, coordinate project management methods, try to immediately understand the features of business with which we work. We reduce agreements and overcome the reluctance of partners to transfer client data to each other.
The client expects that the response to his or her request will be immediate. The client also expects that his or her advisor will be technically savvy and equipped with all modern technologies, ranging from a CRM system, which will help to learn all the information about the client, to the most modern communication channels. We are very conscious about each client, because a deep knowledge of the client and constant contact allow him or her to feel unique and to perceive a legal advisor as his own.
Fortunately, due to the merger, we were really able to increase the expertise, and, thanks to that, we receive unique projects.
Clients no longer want lengthy recommendations running to twenty pages, but wait for specific and brief solutions, taking into account the peculiarities of their industry and solutions that can be applied here and now. At present, the lawyer should be proactive, able to ward off risks that threaten a client and so become a reliable partner. This is how one earns a client's loyalty.
— What is your forecast for the development of the market and your firm in 2019?
— We work in a jurisdiction where making forecasts is a thankless task I think market consolidation will increase. In principle, the legal market can build very optimistic plans for 2019. Almost all areas directions of judicial practice have serious prospects: from simple collection of accounts payable and tax arrears, settlement of disputes within the framework of concluded commercial contracts and employment contracts to the most complex corporate conflicts, business division between partners and divorces of wealthy couples. It is in this regard that I believe that mediation practice will greatly increase in our country, which we're just actively developing thanks to our partner Oleksii Reznikov.
The service market for bankruptcy and debt restructuring is also likely to increase. At the same time, entry into the next active political season can traditionally "exert pressure" on the sprouts of transaction and project work and force investors to "wait it out".