On November 3, 2015, CEE Legal Matters reported that the Mihaj, Ilic & Milanovic Law Firm — describing itself as "one of the first dispute resolution boutiques in the region” — had opened its doors in Belgrade.
The firm was founded by former Karanovic & Nikolic lawyers Nemanja Ilic, Senka Mihaj, and Marko Milanovic and CEELM invited the partners of the new firm to tell us more about the new adventure they have embarked on with Mihai taking us up on the invitation.
First of all, congratulations on the brave step of embarking on your own adventure. Your firm is positioning itself to be "one of the first boutiques specializing in disputes in the region.” What was it about the Serbian market that made you feel the time was right for such a specialized boutique?
S.M.: Many thanks for your kind words. Indeed this was a big decision, not only for me but also for my partners Nemanja and Marko. We felt that it was the right time to set up our own practice— and specializing exclusively in disputes seemed like a natural move, as we have been practicing this area of law for many years, this is what we love the most, and what we do best. We are well aware that there is large competition in providing litigation services, but our idea is to add value to this market by having the pragmatic style of lawyers who are 100% focused on dispute resolution. This approach is a result of the awareness that specialization for specific legal areas is vital, especially in sensitive situations, and believe me, there is plenty of them in court proceedings, when the split-second decisions of experienced trial lawyers can make a huge difference. The hallmark of our team is approaching every client matter with a signature combination of thoroughness, intensity, and creativity, leading to a successful ending of a dispute.
You mention “the region.” Are you planning to expand outside of Serbia in the near or midfuture? If so, how are you planning on developing these new markets?
S.M.: Definitely, one of our goals is to be present in the region. All partners — Mihaj, Ilic, and Milanovic— have great experience in representing clients before the courts in Montenegro, especially in high value litigations, complex bankruptcies, and white collar criminal proceedings. In other countries of the former Yugoslavia, legislation does not allow lawyers from Serbia to appear before the court and we intend to overcome this by associating with local law firms. We are currently exchanging ideas with a few esteemed law firms from Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina about potential cooperation and we hope to materialize this idea soon.
What experiences will you be drawing upon and what types of disputes will you focus on?
S.M.: Marko and I were lucky to begin our careers working in Serbian courts, where we had the opportunity to learn about and understand the court system from the inside, which we consider to be a great advantage in our present practice. On the other hand, Nemanja specialized in criminal proceedings from the earlier stages of his career. This knowledge we upgraded further in one of the biggest law firms in the region, where we practiced for many years in senior and partner positions. During this period, we handled various complex litigations, representing some of the largest local and international companies, and gained priceless experience. Trends on the Serbian and Montenegrin markets also required us to engage heavily in bankruptcy issues, where we developed what we believe to be a unique skill: the ability to deal with all legal aspects of such tentative proceedings. For me personally, arbitration is the core of my interest and I am proud to say that I have great experience in ICC, UNCITRAL, and ICSID proceedings, as well as in arbitration proceedings before the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. In the past few years investment arbitrations are something that I have particularly focused on. However, my first love is commercial arbitration, in which I practiced a lot — and still do — in cases concerning FIDIC related meters, debt collection, and privatizations, to name just a few.
Will you focus strictly on disputes or will you try to set up any complementary practices?
S.M.: As I said, our intention is to be recognized in what we are fully specialized, most experienced, and ultimately the best in: resolving disputes. Our approach is results oriented, we adapt to every situation depending on the client’s needs, avoiding court when it is in our client’s best interest, settling when possible, and acting assertively and proactively during trials. Of course, we are well equipped to provide legal services in other areas of commercial law — first of all corporate and real estate issues — however our concept is to use this knowledge to provide premium representation before the courts. Needless to say, such quality of representation requires in-depthknowledge of current legislation, understanding of specific legal areas, and —lastbut not least — recognizing the business needs of our clients.
As seen from outside the country, the Serbian Courts seem to have registered several notable restructurings/reforms. Are there any others on the horizon that will affect your work? At the same time, is there anything that you would change, if you had the ability to?
S.M.: The Serbian judicial system was indeed faced with numerous reforms in the past decade to make the court system more efficient. Regrettably, from this time perspective, it is safe to say that not much has changed after the reforms. The greatest flaw of the system is still the inefficiency of the courts. This applies not only to Serbia but also to the region, especially Montenegro. Needless to say, inefficient court proceedings seriously impact the business environment where players on the market seek quick and predictable outcome of their disputes.
The bottom line is that restructuring of the judicial system did not bring the intended results. The next step should be modifying procedural rules of each type of court proceeding. Given that the court system directly affects our day-to-day business, we actively participate in various panels dealing with possible changes of procedural laws, in particular the Law on Bankruptcy and the Law on Enforcement and Security. Our idea is to continue to contribute to the changes of the legal system as we believe that is vital for lawyers to be actively involved in the process of creating the regulations, as direct practitioners in this area.