Leading companies express satisfaction with quality of legal work in local firms

| Kyiv Post
“In most cases there is no doubt about extensive experience and high quality of work of the senior team members, such as managing partners or heads of law firm’s practices,” said Svyatoslav Sheremeta , co-head of the legal department at Dragon Capital.

Ukraine’s largest corporations are generally satisfied with the quality of service they receive from law firms in the country, according to their own senior staff, but said choices had to be made carefully to ensure quality and avoid overpaying.

Chief executives and other senior staff from Ernst & Young, Danone, McDonald’s, Dragon Capital, Slavutich Carlsberg Group and Credit Agricole say that law firms in the capital generally provide quality legal services commensurate with prices.

Nonetheless, some businessmen and women have suggestions for big and small law firms alike on how they could improve their services.

In line with global practice, most large corporations in Ukraine have their own internal legal counsels who provide advice on most day-to-day matters. It is common practice, however, for businesses to engage external law firms for litigation or for issues requiring specific experience or involving professional liability insurance.

“In most cases there is no doubt about extensive experience and high quality of work of the senior team members, such as managing partners or heads of law firm’s practices,” said Svyatoslav Sheremeta, co-head of the legal department at Dragon Capital.

All businesses contacted by the Kyiv Post reported being satisfied with the level of legal services provided by law firms in Ukraine with which they work.

“Danone Ukraine is satisfied of legal services level which is provided by the law firms Danone Ukraine works with,” said the company’s public relations director Valeria Trifonova.

(Photo: Svyatoslav Sheremeta, co-head of legal department at Dragon Capital)

The preference is clearly for top-tier international firms, such as Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper and top Ukrainian firms, both of which have experience with complex cases and multi-jurisdictional networks in the region and internationally. Preference is given to those that can guarantee strict anti-corruption and transparency standards.

Sheremeta pointed out that his company conscientiously separates the legal wheat from the chaff because there can be great differences in quality of service. “Not many Ukrainian law firms apply sufficient effort and spend sufficient resources on training their lawyers to provide services at the international standards level,” he said, “which many top tier international law firms continued to do even during the crisis times.”

A good business is necessarily one with an eye on the bottom line. So it’s no surprise that senior staff usually find legal fees charged by law firms in Ukraine high, sometimes too high.

Natalya Bondarenko, legislative director at Slavutich Carlsberg Group, reports that “international firms are really higher in prices, but their services live up to our expectations.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s in Ukraine confirmed through email that although the fast-food giant was “satisfied” with the services of external law firms, “the prices are too high.”

Dragon Capital’s Sheremeta said that “local offices of big international law firms in Ukraine, as well as top local Ukrainian law firms, in terms of legal fees often are trying to follow their Western peers, while the same level of quality is not always ensured.”

However, Sheremeta did praise increasingly flexibility in some firms’ fee structures that seek to maximize their competitiveness and added that “now their clients have more possibilities to find high quality legal services at reasonable price.”

With an ever-growing number of law firms working in Ukraine, businessmen and women are aware that it pays for them to do their research in finding the best quality for the best price. But it is not always easy.

“You can find good quality for good prices but you need to be an insider,” said Alexei Kredisov, managing partner at Ernst & Young Ukraine. On the odd occasion when Ernst & Young seeks external counsel, they find it easy to locate a good firm. “It is easier for us,” he said, “because we are in the business of law. Others may be limited in their contacts because the legal market is not so developed.”

Companies have their own suggestions for how Ukrainian law firms could better please their bigger corporate clients.

Danone Ukraine says that it has “made some initial moves” in the direction of adopting a “success” or contingency fee basis in its work with Ukrainian law firms that would replace the traditional hourly fee structure.

Danone Ukraine favors this, Trifonova said, because the absence of “clear and transparent” fee structures means that “sometimes there are different prices for the same services and quality and Danone has huge variations in the fees.”

Dragon Capital, for its part, suggests that local Ukrainian firms could pay more attention to “the real-time supervision of the whole team’s work” and not just rely on the quality of the senior partners and associations, whose work Dragon finds invariably excellent.

Firms should also put more effort “into training of junior members of the team,” Sheremeta said.

Kyiv Post staff writer Will Fitzgibbon can be reached at [email protected]