Hill Dickinson Senior Associate Anthony Paizes is a solicitor admitted to practice in England and Wales, Greece, South Africa and the Cayman Islands. He practices in the areas of shipping and asset finance, corporate finance, private equity, banking, debt finance, and corporate and commercial law. He speaks English, Greek, and Afrikaans fluently. We reached out to him – in English – to learn more about his path from Africa to Athens.
CEELM: Where are you from in South Africa?
Anthony: I am from a small town east of Johannesburg called Benoni. Like Johannesburg, Benoni began life as a mining town in the late 1800s when gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand area and prospectors arrived from all over the world seeking their fortunes. My great grandfather and six of his brothers were among the many emigrants to arrive in Benoni from Europe after the first world war. My family remains in South Africa to this day. Today, Benoni is probably best known as the town where Hollywood actress Charlize Theron and Princess Charlene of Monaco were born and raised. Benoni is a picturesque little town (its myriad of mine dumps notwithstanding!) dotted with lakes and parks and teeming with sports facilities and recreational areas. It was a great place to grow up.
CEELM: Run us through your background, and how you ended up in your current role with Hill Dickinson in Piraeus.
Anthony: After completing my legal studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1999, I commenced articles of clerkship at the well-known Johannesburg law firm Webber Wentzel Bowens. I was very fortunate to work with some of Johannesburg’s finest corporate lawyers. They regularly acted for the South African giants of industry and commerce, such as Anglo American Corporation, De Beers, Johnnic Holdings, and multinationals such as Pfizer and Ladbrokes, to name a few. The firm’s diverse clientele meant that I was constantly learning new things both through the various stages of industry but also through different industry sectors. I soon came to realize that the common denominator to all the diversity I was seeing was the practice of corporate law, and it was at this time that I developed a real affinity for corporate work.
Shortly after being admitted to the practice of law in South Africa I emigrated to Greece and set about the task of requalifying in Greece. My first steps as a corporate lawyer in Greece came some two years later, working for a small corporate and banking law firm in Athens. I then moved to Ernst & Young – whose legal department was at that time headed by Stathis Potamitis – where I assisted mainly in corporate acquisitions and restructurings.
In the summer of 2008 I relocated to the Cayman Islands to work in the banking and asset finance department of the offshore law firm Appleby. Appleby has a substantial shipping practice and it was oddly through Appleby that I was introduced to the world of Greek shipping. The verdant and tranquil Cayman Islands are also the fifth largest financial center in the world and home to many of the world’s leading hedge funds. During my time offshore, I gained a great deal of experience in working with funds and other investment vehicles, particularly for private equity interests active in the offshore oil and gas industry based in Houston and regularly worked hand-in-hand with US counsel on complex cross-border transactions.
In late 2011 I returned to Greece (with my Greek wife and newborn son in tow) and began working as a ship finance lawyer, initially at Ince & Co, later with Norton Rose Fulbright, and then to HFW. My current role at Hill Dickinson came about as a result of a team move from HFW in 2018.
CEELM: Was it always your goal to work abroad?
Anthony: No. Like many South Africans, I felt compelled to leave South Africa due to the high incidence of violent crime and the indifference or inability of the government to deal with the massive social and economic problems being experienced there. As my roots are Greek, I decided to explore opportunities to return home to the motherland. While on such a trip I met a wonderful young woman (who is now my long-suffering wife) and, from that moment on, my odyssey came to an end and I had found my new home.
CEELM: Tell us briefly about your practice, and how you built it up over the years.
Anthony: My practice is an amalgam of corporate and commercial law on the one hand and ship finance on the other. As most of my early career was spent practicing corporate law, it was only natural for me to continue working in this area. My previous association with Ernst & Young has been very helpful to me in this regard and I am often instructed by former colleagues to advise on matters of English law in transactions involving Greek counterparties.
The other part of my practice involves banking and ship finance, acting for lenders and ship owners in connection with the financing of new and second hand ships. Hill Dickinson’s clients are principally ship owners but also include banks, hedge funds, and other financial institutions.
CEELM: Are you able to leverage your background to obtain mandates from South African clients?
Anthony: Not really. I left South Africa as a newly-qualified lawyer without an established practice of my own.
While at Ernst & Young I acted for a syndicate of Greek banks who were restructuring the debt of the Petzetakis Group in Greece. The restructuring involved the divestment by the group of a subsidiary – the well-known South African construction and engineering company Murray & Roberts. That particular transaction was fraught with difficulties, both under South African law (competition law issues and exchange controls) and under Greek law (peculiarities in registering security and labor law issues). However, in that case my involvement in the matter was fortuitous.
That said, my dual qualification in Greece and South Africa means that I am familiar with legal concepts and the regulatory framework in both jurisdictions, which means that I am ideally placed to assist South African clients looking to invest in Greece, and vice versa. I often receive enquiries from old friends or former colleagues about purchasing a holiday home or updating old family records. However, at present I do not regularly act for South African clients.
CEELM: How would clients describe your style?
Anthony: I always try to be direct with clients and counterparties alike and to keep matters as simple as possible. In the corporate context this is not always easy, as often jargon is bandied about by the various parties to a transaction, often without having a clear sense of what is actually intended. In my negotiations and dealings with other parties I always try to explain the rationale for any points which might be contentious, so as to put the parties in the best possible position to understand the demands coming from the other side. This approach, I find, tends to assist in putting together deals, which is ultimately the goal of the corporate lawyer. And, of course, I try to be polite and courteous at all times.
I would hope that my clients recognize all these traits and prefer to work with me for these reasons. However, to quote the memorable line uttered to the begging ex-leper from Monty’ Python’s Life of Brian, “There is no pleasing some people.”
CEELM: There are obviously many differences between the South African and Greek judicial systems and legal markets. What differences stand out the most?
Anthony: Nowhere are the differences between the two legal systems more vividly apparent than in the courts themselves. I will never forget the first time I walked into a Greek courtroom. The stern, penetrating gaze of the Christ “Pantokrator” depicted in the Byzantine icon hanging over the bench seemed to follow me everywhere I went. It gave me an eerie sense of being watched and I got the feeling that the day of judgement was nigh!
In the courtroom lawyers (clad in chinos and golf shirts) heatedly exchanged personal insults at one another, and the witness box was so close to the bench that at one stage the witness reached over and pulled on the judge’s arm while chastising him for not paying attention to his testimony! The atmosphere in the courtroom was more akin to a busy marketplace and very far from the quiet and ordered courtrooms I had known in South Africa.
What strikes me as one of the greatest difference between the two legal systems is the manner in which pleadings are drafted. In Greece pleadings tend to be more like creative writing essays and they resemble witness statements. They tell the plaintiff’s or respondent’s story, usually in dramatic fashion, and pleadings tend to be cluttered with irrelevant information if it improves the story. Pleadings are also often littered with various colors, bold and underlined text and excessive punctuation!!!!!!!!!!!!!. It certainly keeps matters interesting, but I often wonder whether streamlining the pleadings would assist in producing more efficient courts in Greece.
There are obviously a great deal of differences between a continental style legal system as in Greece and the common law legal system with which we are familiar in the UK. That said, many of the concepts are similar and in many cases, the legal systems tend to deal with similar concepts in similar ways.
CEELM: How about the cultures? What differences strike you as most resonant and significant?
Anthony: Although of Greek descent, most Greeks are able to pick up on my strange accent and conclude that I am a foreigner. Most Greeks will then offer to speak to me in English and enquire about my background. I have found the vast majority of Greeks to be polite and helpful and “filoxenoi” – which refers to the ancient Greek concept of showing hospitality and courtesy to those who are guests or far from home.
I also find that Greek daily life is heavily imbued with influences from Christian orthodoxy – church bells noisily announce the start of hundreds of Christian holy days and feasts throughout the year (maddeningly early on weekends), and Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days for many. A headache is also a sinister thing in Greece – as I have now learned – it is commonly thought to be evidence that someone envious of you has cast “the evil eye” upon you. The cure, which many Greeks will swear by, is to perform a cathartic ritual involving rapid spitting. If someone tells you he/she has been set upon by the evil eye, make sure you stand clear, as the sputum will surely fly!
CEELM: How often do you get home? Do you have any plans to move back to South Africa?
Anthony: Not often enough I’m afraid. The last time I visited South Africa was around seven years ago. Sadly, as much as I would love to return, I fear that the reasons for my leaving are still very apt. So, for me at least, a return home is not currently an option.
CEELM: Outside of Greece, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most, and why?
Anthony: I have not managed to travel regularly to CEE countries for leisure. I have visited Poland (Warsaw), Bulgaria (Sofia), and North Macedonia (Skopje) on business fairly often and would have to say that, of the three, Poland would be my favorite destination. I found the picturesque Old Town of Warsaw to be a fascinating place to explore, both architecturally and culturally, and it’s filled with old churches, cathedrals, parks, restaurants and galleries to visit.
CEELM: What’s your favorite place to take visitors in Athens?
Anthony: My favorite place in Athens has to be the Plaka, which is nestled just below the Acropolis. It is one of the oldest parts of the city and most of its roads have been paved and are closed to traffic (although this does not mean that you won’t see cars driving on the roads). Wandering around the old cobblestoned roads of the Plaka is more reminiscent of a Greek island than the city center. The Plaka is a vibrant, bustling neighborhood filled with tourist shops, jewelry stores, restaurants, and cafes, while its main street is lined with street musicians and artists, coin and stamp collectors, and street food vendors. The Plaka is also home to the old Cine Paris, an outdoor movie theatre perched on a rooftop with a view of the Acropolis. There are a number of archeological sites to visit around the Plaka, including the Acropolis, the Temple of Thision, the Herodian Theatre, the old Greek and Roman agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Tower of Winds, Hadrian’s Arch, and the Temple of Zeus. The place is simply magical and no matter how many times I visit, I can’t seem to get enough.