"First of all this spring we re-elected the governing body and another institutions for attorneys," says Agris Bitans, the Managing Partner of Eversheds Bitans in Latvia, when asked for the Buzz in his country.
"A new Chairman and a new council." Bitans was encouraged by the Bar Association's decision to pay attention to issues at its annual meeting that he believes have been overlooked in recent years. "As usual there were a lot of activities, but there were also some special conversations about ethical issues and changes in the by-laws. We haven’t finished the process yet, but we’re now awake -- no longer sleepy. So I think it’s a good development in general, even if we haven’t made many changes yet."
When asked what conversations in particular he's referring to, Bitans explains that "we discussed the necessity to improve the position of our ethical council. It’s been elected until now by the council of the Bar Association. The idea is that this ethical committee should be elected by the general meeting, to put it in a higher position in our organization. And there’s a conversation about the rights and capacities of the institution itself, so that it can initiate its own investigations and activities on ethical matters instead of being passive, but that’s not happening yet."
That's not all, Bitans says. "Another technical issue which is very important is new discussions of amendments to the Advocates Law, including clarifying the legal status of law firms." Bitans says that until now it hasn't been made completely clear for all state institutions that firms were and could be treated as independent legal entities — just as partnerships — "but now it’s clear that we’re separate legal personalities for tax purposes and ability to enter into contracts, and so on."
Turning to the subject of business, Bitans says M&A is happening, slowly, "but you can’t say it’s a very positive time." He says, "we are busy, but clients have become more demanding, and they’re looking for more opportunities to save money. That’s a logical tendency -- they want to make sure they’re not overpaying." Ultimately, Bitans says, clients are simply getting more savvy about making smart choices of external counsel. "Everyone’s recognizing it’s important to select and manage appropriate law firms."
Bitans report that he's seeing "a lot of activity in the financial and FinTech sectors. A lot of new companies, a lot of activity in the fast transfer of finances, and that requires a lot of experience, so we’re involved in a lot in that area."
Real Estate is "showing some signs of activity," Bitans reports, but nothing major is happening quite at the moment. "There’s interest," he says, "but it’s not happening yet. Prisma — a major shopping mall chain — has decided to leave Latvia and cancel its activities in the Baltics, so that’s causing some problems. That’s a terrible sign. But on the other hand, we see that IKEA opening a centre near Riga. So that’s good."
Finally, Bitans turns to a potential change of significance in the country's legislation. "One large change which is being discussed and which should be monitored very carefully is tax reform." He reports conversations about reforming the corporate income, real estate, social security, and medical insurance taxes, and says, "but of course it’s not so easy. If you minimize one tax you can impact municipal governments, but of course we would like to spend the revenues for several purposes, so there are many questions. From one side it’s positive that this discussion of tax reform is happening now, rather than in the autumn, when there won’t be much time left for forming of state budget, so it’s good that we’re already talking about it. From another – creating uncertainty regarding the taxation system is not good." Bitans says the results of local government elections that took place on the weekend June 3 will also be significant, "to see if there’s influence on the government, to see how stable the current government is. But so far there’s no direct indication."