In July 2022 Glimstedt Law Firm, which is operating in the Baltics and Sweden, as one of the first consultancy companies in Europe has announced its new partnership in Ukraine during the war. Together with the local market leader Ilyashev & Partners, which has the largest office network in Ukraine, Glimstedt intends to take the strategic role of co-ordinating Ukrainian rebuilding.
Prior to the announcement, in June 2022 three Glimstedt’s top-managers – Frida Keyling, COO at Glimstedt Sweden, Randu Riiberg, Partner at Glimstedt Estonia, and Egidijus Bernotas, Partner at Glimstedt Lithuania, have made a trip to Kyiv with the first wartime business delegation. We’ve met to get a closer look on Glimstedt’s strategy in Ukraine.
Tell us about the history of your company. How many years have you been practicing? In which areas do you specialize, how do you position yourself on the legal market of the Baltic and Swedish region?
Frida Keyling: Glimstedt Law Firm has been practicing in Sweden since 1935 being one of the oldest law firms in the area, having ten offices around the country. In 1997 the Baltic offices opened in all three capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Glimstedt is focusing on corporate clients, public sector and wealthy individuals. Glimstedt has extensive expertise to provide support to its clients in the issues they need strategic support, including mergers and acquisitions, dispute resolution, real estate, corporate commercial, insolvency, intellectual property.
We are proficient within industries such as energy, banking, construction and infrastructure, insurance, startups. Most of the clients are large and medium-sized national and international companies. We also assist public institutions, including governments.
How would you describe the legal market in the Baltic sea region (including Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)? What trends are visible? Is it competitive market?
Egidijus Bernotas: With the rise of interest rates in the Baltic region we see a slight decline in transactions at the moment and since the Covid-19 outbreak we have been preparing for many bankruptcy cases which has not yet happened. The market has continued to stay strong yet there is a fear of a setback in the economy which affects lawyers, but the need for lawyers are quite continuous through good and bad times.
Glimstedt has local competitors which is only healthy for our practices. Our Sweden – Baltic presence is unique and facilitates our client’s cross boarder business.
How, in your opinion, has the market for legal services changed on a global scale because of the war in Ukraine, especially due the fact that most of the global international law firm left Russian market?
Frida Keyling: The market for legal services generally follows the changes in their client markets. Some 10 years ago there was careful but generally positive approach of the international clientele in respect of Eastern Europe overall. At that time Glimstedt had an office in Minsk, helped their clients to get established in industrial parks there. We also had active operations in Serbia, where one of our clients had big industrial interest. Today, unfortunately, the clients back out from those countries, we closed our activities in Belarus 4 years ago due to increasing doubts of our clients in respect of the stability of the political situation in there. The Serbian activities were nationalized by the State, forcing us to resort to international dispute settlement institutions. Unfortunately, International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (generally referred to as ICSID) is becoming more and more common venue for client – government relations in CEE countries. Markets like Belarus, Russia can hardly be seen as markets for commercial legal services as an opposite to the said dispute resolution services.
Randu Riiberg: Regardless of the above we have been active in relocating our clients from those countries after start of the war and are able to provide support also at the countries of former Soviet Union. We know the culture and manners of the region, having good partners in all countries. Today we are working directly with governments and investors to speed the process and to modify the investment environment in Ukraine, rather than wait for public sector to lead the way.
Ukraine is expected to go not only through a long reconstruction process but also to encounter legal challenges in adapting its legal system to EU requirements. It’s a war time and focus is elsewhere. We see our unique role and opportunity.
What is the goal of your cooperation the Ilyashev & Partners? How your partnership will look like?
Frida Keyling: Principle for Glimstedt has been “Think global, act local”, so is of its clients. That means that any global solution shall at all times be adapted to sound acceptable to local markets. Needless to say, big names like Coca Cola, Mars, McDonalds also have their “localized” products to meet the domestic costumer demands. Our intention for co-operation in all markets, including this of Ukraine is to assure that the needs and expectations of our clients are correctly “translated” into local legal language instead of plainly copy – pasting their arrangements. For example, the customs and confidence in the sustainability of the governmental arrangements when investing into securities market, real estate in Scandinavia are much different from those acceptable in Baltics and even more different further south in East Europe. The necessities of the government in e.g. Lithuania are also much different in terms of priorities compared to Ukraine. The key economical parameters like GDP, State debt, history of co-operation with the World Bank, EBRD and other funds of structural financing determine the differences which may be essential when comparing the practices in two even neighboring countries. This is a reason, we find it very advantageous to have our clients referred to the best local firms such as Ilyashev & Partners in Ukraine.
Randu Riiberg: And the other way around as well. We are reliable, experienced and well-connected partner for Ilyashev & Partners clients in the Baltic sea region and elsewhere in the world. Our partners have long time experience working in international law offices, including BIG-4 auditing companies that has allowed to create a worldwide network of strategic partners.
Few weeks ago, you visited Kyiv. What were your impressions of our capital? What impressed or worried you the most?
Randu Riiberg: There is obviously a priority to protect the residents at all costs, but it was surprising to see the positive attitudes about the future, especially on the ability to rebuild a healthy business environment, locals working tirelessly for the future of Ukraine as well on a business side, this will attract investors and create jobs and opportunities for the locals.
As a part of Ukrainian Estonian Chamber of Commerce delegation we created strong relations and are working with followups to actually make difference. Our meetings included high level meetings with the government officials, members of the Parliament and Kyiv City Council, local business associations and major businessman. This trip was widely covered in the leading Estonian business media and became an example of the fact that even now it is possible and necessary to work in Ukraine.
What challenges are your clients facing today and how do you plan to overcome them in synergy with Ilyashev & Partners?
Randu Riiberg: One of the main problems for international clients and investors is lack of trust to Ukrainian partners and system. We see that relations with Ilyashev & Partners will allow us to provide our local clients trustworthy partner in Ukraine.
Egidijus Bernotas: I would say, the business as such is of adventurer nature, thus the challenges generally are accepted by the clients. Every extraordinary situation is like a new game in chess where you have to be more creative than your competitor in order to win.
Can you share plans for key projects that you will implement together?
Randu Riiberg: We have several projects together, our office in Glimstedt office in Estonia has taken leading role in Estonian – Ukraine Chamber of Commerce and brought us to Kyiv in June, 2022. The international finance institutions should be the ones to pull the strings and give a green light to opening the doors for ordinary businesses. The governments of Baltic states have always been active in terms of rendering technical assistance to Ukraine, and are expected to continue doing so when helping Ukraine to move forward towards membership in EU. It is very important that the Government of Ukraine develop the strategy and stick to it in energy, privatization, financial sectors. When being in Kyiv we met a number of businessmen and public officials who seem to be determined to make positive changes in key indicators for transparency of the market. This will attract the attention of global business players, altogether that of the lawyers.
Our main focus is to support Ukraine building investor protection program encouraging foreign investors to invest into Ukraine. It is more efficient to give investors protection than to just provide monetary support. We see our mission to help re-building Ukrainian economy that is not afraid of ongoing war and is focused to EU and other markets.
How you see the participation of international business in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and what role law firms will have in it?
Egidijus Bernotas: Business is always there where there is a demand for it. Only very specific business can be done in the battle fields. The constructive, sustainable business will wait until the first signals of secure environment are shown and will come to the market on both national and international levels for re-construction and other matters. The war unfortunately is not a unique appearance nowadays, there are lessons and experience to be learned in Balcans, Middle East, Asia. The law is and will be inevitable in all those processes, so will be the lawyers. We are focusing on creating the trust to local partners and business environment, as well looking for opportunities to secure investors investments.
Will Ukraine become a promising market for foreign law firms? Is it a benefit or not for the local players?
Frida Keyling: Yes. Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe, quite complex, diversified market with much of potential. It will always be on a map of business. The demand will be far higher in near future as Ukraine has to refocus from Russian market to EU/Western markets, and align its practices and businesses of those of its new partners.