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Expat on the Market: Interview with Adam Mycyk of Dentons Kiev

Expat on the Market: Interview with Adam Mycyk of Dentons Kiev

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Adam Mycyk, a Ukrainian-American from the United States, is a partner in Dentons’ Kyiv office, and he has nearly 25 years of experience advising both Ukrainian and international companies, banks, investment banks and a range of other financial institutions and investors.

CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current role with Dentons.     

Adam: Back in 1995, I interviewed with two firms in Kyiv – Altheimer & Gray and our legacy firm, Salans – and decided to work with A&G. When A&G disbanded in 2003, I once again spoke to Salans (most of the former A&G offices in CEE ended up joining Salans), but our Kyiv office decided to go with Chadbourne & Parke instead. In 2007, CMS Cameron McKenna recruited me together with four other partners to open its Kyiv office, and then in 2013 Chadbourne wooed me back to transition into the managing partner role after the planned retirement of the managing partner there. Unfortunately, in 2014 Chadbourne decided to close its Kyiv office, and that’s when I found myself for the third time at Salans’s (now Dentons) door – it’s just that this time, I was the one doing the knocking.  Thankfully, the door opened, and in the short time I’ve been here I’ve witnessed the firm grow and develop even more rapidly and dynamically than I could have imagined it would.

CEELM: Was it always your goal to work abroad?

Adam: One would have thought that with my educational background - I graduated with a B.A. in International Relations from George Washington University, where I concentrated on Soviet and Eastern European Studies and received a minor in Russian Language and Literature - working abroad should have been in my sights, but it really wasn’t anything that I even imagined would ever be possible. After college, I went to law school in DC and ended up working for a boutique mortgage banking firm just blocks from the White House. One cold February day in 1994, when I was a second-year associate, a friend of mine called me up to say that he had just read a help-wanted ad in one of the Washington, D.C. legal weeklies for a firm that was looking for an associate with 0-3 years of experience with Russian and/or Ukrainian language skills willing to relocate to their newly opened Kyiv office – “that sounds like it was made for you!”. 

Well, I wasn’t too sure about that at first, as I was quite comfortable living in DC (despite the long dreadfully hot and humid summers – thank God for air conditioning!). I lost sleep thinking about it for a week, and then finally decided to apply. Within a week, I had an interview, a week after that an offer, and one month after that I landed in Kyiv. I was a few months shy of my 28th birthday, I had never travelled outside of the United States (not even to Canada), and I didn’t even have a passport. But I figured – why not? I knew the language, so that was already one hurdle crossed, and if I ever was going to have an adventure, that was the time to try it. Plus, if I didn’t like it, nothing prevented me from coming back to D.C.  And here I am – 24 years (and two revolutions) later, having traded D.C.’s long humid summers for Kyiv’s even longer freezing winters…  

CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years. 

Adam: Much like a number of my other expat colleagues in these markets, most of my time is spent advising international clients entering the market, but I often work with Ukrainian clients as well (knowing the language helps with that). My practice is largely transactional in nature, and mainly consists of corporate/M&A transactions. I also regularly work on financing matters, although less so now given the very capable team we have here in our office. Over the years, I’ve been involved on so many different matters – when I first arrived it seemed as though I worked on anything that came in the door – but I’ve found that I’m happiest doing transactional work. Even now, though, I find myself picking up new practice areas, most recently in renewable energy. I’ve found that the best way to develop the practice is to just do good work and to build and foster a strong team. The recognition of that by your clients and your peers is often your best advertisement.      

CEELM: How would clients describe your style?    

Adam: From what I’ve read, clients say that I’m nice, easy-going, and pleasant to work with, which is always a good thing to hear. Ultimately, though, I think what clients expect from a partner is that he or she be pragmatic, commercial, and solution-oriented, and know when to reach compromises, rather than be pedantic, overly theoretical, impractical, or combative.  That’s something that I try to bring to the table on every matter I handle.  So far, it seems to work well.

CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the Ukrainian and American judicial systems and legal markets. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?

Adam: There’s the obvious civil vs. common law difference, which took some time to adapt to, and the fact that there isn’t really any court precedent or thorough legislative history to fall back on when something isn’t quite clear in the law as written. In addition, form is often more important than substance, and courts are often reluctant to go beyond the four corners of a law to interpret the meaning of unclear provisions or gaps, or to uncover the true spirit of the law. Add to that a (sometimes) corrupt and often inexperienced judiciary and administrative system, and you’re regularly faced with some big challenges when advising clients trying to quantify the impact of a particular risk or to assess the likelihood of that risk occurring. For those reasons, many lawyers here often take very conservative positions, which doesn’t necessarily help in advancing the progress of the law. Also, the practice doesn’t necessarily always reflect the law, and this is particularly true of land law where the advice of a local practitioner familiar with the peculiarities of how local governments operate can often be quite helpful in reconciling the differences between what’s written in the law and what the local government always does.        

CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?

Adam: Ukrainians are known for their generous hospitality, and that’s something that I encountered almost immediately after arriving. You may often find yourself being invited as a guest to someone’s home after a particularly successful business meeting, in which case you should be prepared to bring along your appetite together with a small gift of flowers or chocolate. Important delegations are often given the red carpet treatment, and occasionally the hospitality precedes the actual conduct of business. I remember one of my first negotiations in a small town in Western Ukraine at a run-down state-owned agricultural machinery plant with whom one of my clients was planning on setting up a joint venture for the production of combines. We were welcomed in the director’s immense office at 8:30 in the morning, at which a long table had been laid out with so many plates of food that I couldn’t even count them all, and when the director found out that my parents were originally from Ukraine, he started trying to marry me off to his daughter! Luckily the deal didn’t go through and I didn’t have to go back, so that was a narrow escape! Oh, and toasts! Toasts are a normal part of any celebration or social gathering! Be prepared for many toasts – and remember to bring along your aspirin for the morning after! 

CEELM: What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?

Adam: We (Dentons) couldn’t do what we do as well as we do it in as many places as we are without cohesive teams of solid local lawyers in each of the jurisdictions in which we operate. Expats are a nice “add-on.” In our firm, expats play a number of different roles, with some having a more regional role based on a particular specialty or practice area that allows them to work on transactions throughout a region, and others, like myself, having a more country-specific role due to my knowledge of both Ukrainian and Russian, which coupled with my Western training enables me to work more on purely Ukrainian matters as well as cross-border deals. That said, very often the most valuable benefit is as simple as just being able to bridge the language and cultural gap between foreigners and locals and quickly spotting when something that seems like a problem is really just something that got “lost in translation.” It happens more often than you may think, and the sooner you can catch it, the more time and frustration you can save.

CEELM: Do you have any plans to move back to the US?   

Adam: As much as I love Ukraine and Ukrainians, I’m still a “Yankee” at heart, and the US will always be home.  But at this point, I don’t have any concrete plans to move back, and I’m not really sure where I would move if I were to ever move back. I’m not a big fan of winter weather, so that cuts out a good chunk of the country, and D.C. – well, you know, hot and humid, and as much as I’d love to live out the rest of my days on Maui, I’ve lived most of my life now in a big city and need to be near the hustle and bustle. So who knows where or when it will happen (but definitely not before 2021…)!     

CEELM: Outside of Ukraine, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?      

Adam: I had to look up the list of CEE countries before answering this question, and when I did, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only visited about five of them…  But I am partial to the Czech Republic and, in particular, Prague. It’s just one of those magical cities that you can easily get lost in and not mind wandering around for hours and hours.  But yes, I need to get out more…

CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Kyiv?  

Adam: There’s lots to see in Kyiv, and when I first arrived here I spent months and months just walking around everywhere and familiarizing myself with the city and its architecture, the different neighborhoods and parks, and the many churches, monuments, squares, and markets. While I could spend hours in a farmers’ market trying pickled vegetables, caviar, smoked meats, and cheeses, and haggling with the vendors over the price of a kilo of farm fresh corn, I like to end the day somewhere with a panoramic view. Kyiv has a lot of hills and parks with great views of the city, including St. Volodymyr’s Hill, the Motherland Monument (Rodyna Mat’), which is about 102 meters high, and the Bell Tower at St. Sophia’s Cathedral.  And after you’ve climbed all of those steps at the Bell Tower to catch that perfect view of the city, if you’re legs still aren’t too tired, you can just walk across the street to the beautiful Hyatt hotel and sip some vodka at their 8th floor terrace bar while you enjoy the view from there.  And grab a hamburger while you’re at it!

This Article was originally published in Issue 5.11 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.