CEELMDirect Profile Pick: A series of interviews with partners and firms with profiles on the new CEELMDirect online legal directory. Today’s interview: Mia Kalas, Partner at Selih & Partnerji in Slovenia.
Kalas: Our firm has a tradition of more than sixty years. It was founded in 1961 by Rudi Selih, whose career path was extremely rich; among other things, he served as Chair of the Slovenian Bar Association, was a member of the chairing committee of the alliance of the bar associations of the former Yugoslavia, and was an honorary consul of the Kingdom of Denmark. He received several awards for his contribution to the development of the legal profession in Slovenia. As a true visionary, he recognized the importance of cross-border transactions even back in those iron times. Upon his retirement in 2005, his daughter Nina Selih and three partners – Natasa Pipan Nahtigal, Helena Butolen, and Gregor Simoniti – co-founded the modern firm we are today. We have grown considerably in the last 20 years, from an initial small team of about 10 to now more than 30 employees.
CEELMDirect: According to the Activity Rankings function of the CEELMDirect website, Selih & Partnerji has worked on more reported deals so far in 2022 than any other firm. What can you tell us about the first part of the year?
Kalas: It has indeed been a busy first half of the year. The Slovenian M&A market remained very active despite the uncertainties triggered by the war in Ukraine. We assisted in several acquisitions (and attempted acquisitions) of large and medium-sized companies, and also in a couple of exits of private-equity funds from their Slovenian investments. Whenever the M&A market is hot, law firms are obviously also busy with acquisition financings. One particularly interesting financing this year was related to Oaktree’s acquisition of Slovenian gaming equipment provider Interblock.
The real estate market has been on the rise as well, with prices of both residential and industrial properties going ballistic. There is still so much demand for real property that sometimes even mid-sized companies look at multiple opportunities and then do not only pursue one, but several. For instance, we just helped a client who purchased the real property it used to rent, in parallel, agreed to purchase construction land located in a green-field industrial zone that is still under development, and is, on top of that, looking to buy some additional premises in the vicinity of its existing facilities.
However, on a less optimistic note, the business and investment climate has been rapidly cooling since the summer. As in other EU countries, the Slovenian economy is facing serious inflation, raging energy prices, and, perhaps a bit more here than elsewhere, concerns about a potential new wave of COVID-19.
Some of our clients and other participants in the market are much concerned about the decrease in production orders, and they fear that the coming crisis may be so deep that the proposed aid measures (such as certain controls over energy prices) may be insufficient. The growth of real-property transactions has already tipped. I think we should be ready for a rough autumn and winter, and expect a slow-down of transactional and financing work. However, this usually goes in pair with an increase in other types of work, such as restructuring and employment-related work, so I remain cautiously optimistic that the impact of the expected crisis may not be too devastating for law firms.
CEELMDirect: In an interview with Partner Jera Majzelj back in January that appears on Selih & Partnerji's CEELMDirect profile, Majzelj commented on various constitutional challenges to the regulations enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, eight months later, how do you think Slovenia handled the crisis, and do you think there are things that could have been done better?
Kalas: The COVID-19 pandemic was completely unprecedented, and I do believe that most people did their very best. There will always be things that could have been done better, but it is also easy to criticize when the battle is over. In my personal view, Slovenia handled the crisis efficiently. Certain genuinely helpful measures for businesses were adopted relatively promptly. As a result, we did not experience the major wave of insolvencies that was expected upon the first lockdowns. I also believe that most individuals in the medical profession worked until (and often over) the verge of burn-out, and truly deserve applause. Also, most other public services remained available with bearable delays, or were quickly restored.
As regards room for improvement, as a lawyer I was most upset over certain regulations and actions of the authorities contravening the constitution, and about the introduction of certain institutes which were not really related to COVID-19 through intervening measures (such as proceedings for screening of foreign investments).
The public generally was – to my impression – most critical of the large number of deceased in elderly care centers, the often intimidating manner of communication by the authorities, the evident political pressure on expert institutions, the diverting of significant funds to importers of unvalidated rapid COVID tests, and the suppression of public protests.
CEELMDirect: Are there any major or significant changes or initiatives underway at Selih & Partnerji you’re proud of and would like to tell us about?
Kalas: One initiative that we are particularly proud of is our recent obtaining of the certificate of a Socially Responsible Employer, which recognized our care for employees and our investment in their development, the maintaining of fair and transparent relationships towards employees, clients, business partners, and the society in which we operate, and our care for the environment.
Kalas: In my view, the greatest potential of this platform lies in the easy access to several different types of information relevant for law firms – legal briefings, reports on transactions, activity rankings, and more. Just a glance over the page during the morning coffee and there you are – fully up to date with the most recent happenings in the CEE legal market.