Regional networks are a big deal in CEE of late, and one of the fastest growing alliances is Alliott Global Alliance. We sat down with AGA CEO Giles Brake to learn about the alliance’s history, strategy, and plans in CEE. We also reached out to AGA law firms across the region to find out more about what drew them in, what benefits they’ve been reaping, and their role as members of a global network.
You Had Me at Hello
Five of the law firm Partners we spoke with share that Alliott Global Alliance’s executive team made a great first impression, with Bulgaria’s Sabev & Partners Partner Boryana Boteva noting that, “over the years, we have been contacted by many other professional networks. What drew our attention to AGA in the first place was the way they presented themselves and the ease of communication.” Turkey’s Burcu Doner Law Firm Founder and Managing Partner Burcu Doner doubles down, saying the “members of the executive team I met were the most welcoming and reliable people I ever met, compared with similar networks. From the first day, even before joining them, they made me feel so much included.” Hungary’s Feher Legal & Tax Managing Partner Daniel Feher, Poland’s Woloszanski & Partners Managing Partner Michal Woloszanski, and Serbia’s Milosevic Law Firm Partner Vladimir Milosevic all say they were sold on joining AGA after that initial discussion.
Global and Growing
Working with “multinational parties in different jurisdictions all around the world,” Doner says she was “searching for an alliance with worldwide coverage as well as an outstanding experience in managing the relationship between its members.” Slovakia’s MST Partners Partner Martin Timcsak highlights that “membership in the alliance allows us to operate on a global scale and benefit from our past experiences in international transactions.” And Milosevic says “the idea to join AGA came naturally, considering our growth in the market and the rise of international business in Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Woloszanski notes that, “from the first days of our law firm, we saw the great potential that international projects bring, and thus the importance of smooth cooperation with law firms around the world.” And, while his firm had been developing that area on its own, he says “joining the Alliott Global Alliance was the leap to another level.” Boteva adds that “how fast the organization is growing” was another key selling point.
AGA is a multidisciplinary alliance not just for accountants and advisers but also for lawyers, Feher stresses. And it’s that mix of law, tax, and accounting firms together that, according to Slovenia’s Law Firm Brezavscek Zgavec Partner Simon Zgavec, “international clients can approach as a one-stop-shop for all their legal and tax questions,” which made “AGA the obvious choice” for his firm. Boteva agrees, adding that, “given the limited size of the legal market in our country,” being granted an exclusive position within an AGA jurisdiction was very important. Milosevic says his firm was looking “to provide local professional services to international clients who seek full support for their business internationally,” which is what AGA, “gathering leading international law firms and professional advisors,” can provide.
Looking Beyond Referrals
Boteva lists some of the opportunities AGA offers its members: “not only referrals but regular events, training programs and tools, and insights on different topics.” Feher says “the resources of our local AGA members for cross-border cooperation are significant – with a German Circle Meeting for members who advise German-speaking clients, for example – and deep collaboration between CEE and SEE.
Summing up all the arguments for joining AGA, Woloszanski says the clenchers were “its modern vision for doing business, the open and ethical expansion strategy, and the dynamic growth with a family atmosphere in the relationships within the alliance.”
A Warm Welcome and a Solid Start
AGA’s CEE footprint includes the Milosevic Law Firm, which joined the alliance in February 2022, and Feher Legal & Tax, which joined almost four years ago. Looking back, Feher says the experience has been very fruitful. “It was very intensive, as we took part in all important events, making use of collaborative opportunities in special global practice groups – such as Global Mobility or Real Estate – meeting lots of new colleagues, business partners, and not least friends.” Boteva agrees: “although a member for only six months, we can already say that the reality exceeds our expectations. We are regularly kept informed, not only of upcoming events but also of specific business opportunities offered by other members.”
Doner says it’s been “too good to be true. The alliance and my colleagues in the alliance have always made me feel that I am a part of a big family.” With Timcsak’s firm being a member for one year, he highlights “there are many friendly members and professional employees in AGA” and looks forward to their future cooperation. “Although we joined Alliott in the middle of the pandemic,” Woloszanski says “from day one we were looked after and warmly welcomed, not only by Alliott staff but also by other members of the alliance.”
Connected with a Top Team
“I am always confident that I can cooperate with the best professionals around the world when I need them,” Doner emphasizes. “After a few weeks, we already felt part of the community and knew how we could quickly connect if our clients needed support overseas,” Woloszanski remembers.
“We are a boutique Slovenian law firm,” Zgavec points out, “and have, through AGA, enormous reach throughout Europe and the world. So far, our experience is that we can trust the other members and work together as one,” which, according to him, “is at the heart of AGA’s branding.” He also highlights the alliance’s small management team, saying “their great effectiveness is another benefit of being a member.”
Knowledge Is Power
Five of the Partners highlighted regular meetings, events, and learning opportunities as key benefits of their AGA membership. “I have enjoyed every moment of the events where we have gathered and learned so much from each other,” Doner says. Milosevic points to AGA’s flagship EMEA Regional Conference, “which enabled us to meet over one hundred colleagues, from more than forty countries, in person, and exchange valuable experiences,” as well as attending “expert sessions on relevant law and accounting topics.” He also appreciates “the opportunities we are offered every day,” including webinars and online meetings on different topics, “especially valuable for our young professionals.”
And Feher notes that AGA has enabled his firm to gain additional publishing visibility: “among others, being the Global Mobility Author partners of Wolters Kluwer’s Hungarian subsidiary, publishing the second edition of our Global Mobility Legal and Taxation Summary, and being frequent contributors for CEE Legal Matters.”
On to Business
Within these first six months, “we received several referrals and were contacted by members from other countries with specific requests for assistance,” Boteva says, “and we referred two of our clients to AGA members in France and Germany, which has already resulted in a completed transaction.” For Doner, “AGA’s coverage has helped me a lot to gain new clients, who plan to expand their business to different parts of the world, trusting that they can get global legal and accounting solutions from us, when such expansion occurs,” with Feher adding: “we have also had new international mandates from our existing clients.” And Woloszanski remembers that “just a few months after we joined Alliott, our key client needed support with a complex M&A transaction across four jurisdictions. With the assistance of Alliott’s executive office, we were able to quickly and efficiently set up an international working group that executed the entire transaction in an exemplary manner.”
Was? Wo? Wann?
“Indeed,” Woloszanski continues, “Alliott members recommend each other, not only to clients but also to friends or business contacts.” So far, Boteva notes, “we have received referral work from Turkey, Cyprus, and Germany and are working permanently with one of those referred clients.” For Doner, referrals came in “mostly from European markets,” with Feher saying the same – “Western, Central, and Eastern Europe” – and adding the Middle East and North America. “We are also working with Hungarian companies,” he says, “who would like to enter new foreign markets with our professional support.” Timcsak says it’s still early days, but his firm is “cooperating with colleagues from Benelux.”
Woloszanski says they’ve received requests from “the US, Italy, Romania, Germany, and Portugal” and emphasizes that, “with a calm heart, we also send our clients to colleagues at Alliott, most recently to the UK, France, Germany, and Romania.” Noting that they recently received referral work from Serbia and the US, Zgavec says, “for us, it is very important that we also have reliable partners abroad, and this is something AGA offers.”
“Given the current crisis in Ukraine, which affected all neighborhood countries,” Milosevic says “most inquiries come from those in the EMEA market who want international assistance, especially for the relocation of labor and capital.”
The Nice Surprise
“The most unexpected benefit,” according to Doner, “is finding myself unconsciously promoting my colleagues in other countries when talking to multinational clients. This has helped my firm to become a solution partner for such companies, rather than an ordinary legal counsel.”
For Woloszanski, it was the addition of a clear competitive advantage to the firm’s employer profile: “the offer of training and networking meetings for younger members.” And Zgavec was pleasantly surprised by “the somewhat relaxed internal relationships among small-to-medium-sized AGA members, which produce the best results for our clients.”
And for Milosevic it was the impact on “the branding and visibility of our firm, given that we are now recognized as part of a strong international network of professionals.” Feher agrees, praising his “highly motivated AGA colleagues and the professional management of the Executive Office, which has seen AGA move into the Top 5 leading multidisciplinary global alliances, in just a few years.” This, he notes, “makes our services more competitive.”
A Sense of Pride
“Thanks to our AGA membership we can render not just full service legal and tax advice, but accounting and payroll solutions as well,” Feher continues. “Our membership has made us a real multidisciplinary international advisory firm, offering a competitive one-stop-shop service for businesses and private clients.”
“I am so happy and proud to be a part of AGA, which is one of the fastest growing alliances,” Doner says, “and believe that we will create success stories acting together as one.” For Milosevic, “despite the international crisis that we and many of our clients are facing, 2022 will be remembered as the year we joined AGA. This will be a challenging year, so it is crucial to have a strong network of partners that help each other and that, together, can organize help for people in need right now.”
The CEO Corner: An interview with Giles Brake, Chief Executive Officer, Alliott Global Alliance
CEELM: Briefly walk us through AGA’s history.
Brake: The history of Alliott Global Alliance goes back to 1979. Our key driver was that the world was becoming more internationalized: the five founding accounting firms were facing increasing competition from what, back then, was known as the Big Eight. The transition to include law firms began in 2004. There is a natural synergy between legal and accounting services, so we decided to focus on bringing together advisors across those professions and formalize and create a USP. We sought to bring in firms of similar size and scope to our accounting members – those who worked with similarly sized clients. That enabled us to offer clients a network of advisors that work hand in hand, across borders. Almost 20 years later, we’re made up of 55% accounting and 45% law firms, so we’re very balanced.
CEELM: What about your CEE presence?
Brake: We’ve always had some kind of presence in CEE, but our development began in earnest only about five years ago, due to growing demand from clients to expand into and operate in the region, as well as the wider availability of medium-sized law firms.
CEELM: What’s Alliott’s USP?
Brake: Our unique selling proposition is our multidisciplinary focus. Furthermore, we are not a pure “referrals network” – the alliance is collaborative and client-facing. We give independent law or accounting firms the tools to offer their clients a global solution. Members can coordinate their client’s global representation (for legal, accounting, tax, or audit matters and more). And member firms are co-developing shared solutions that can be offered to clients doing business in CEE and globally. For clients – we offer access to a truly global and truly multidisciplinary network – and there aren’t many of those around. We have boots on the ground in 95 countries, with a balanced membership between law and accounting.
CEELM: What is the law firm profile you’re looking for?
Brake: For our law firm membership, we aim for middle-market firms offering a comprehensive range of business law services. That, depending on the jurisdiction, can vary anywhere from ten to 200 fee earners. But it’s not primarily about size. It’s more about mindset: having the willingness and appetite to share and work together, to utilize the tools and resources of the alliance. We’re also looking for firms with multijurisdictional client bases, those that need to service their clients through other members. I would say that 90 to 95% of member firms’ clients are private companies, not publicly listed companies. We also work closely with the owners of these private companies and high-net-worth individuals, helping them with real estate, disputes, wealth management, and tax matters – closely hand in hand – something medium-sized firms are very good at.
CEELM: What can you tell us about membership requirements?
Brake: We are a non-exclusive alliance: you are free, as a member, to work with any other law firm or accounting firm. We would never restrict our members’ freedom in doing what is best for their clients. But we expect our firms to not be affiliated with another international network. In turn, each member firm receives its own exclusive geographic territory, with no other AGA law firm there – a territory they can market themselves in as the sole AGA member firm.
CEELM: What is your current CEE footprint?
Brake: In CEE, we currently cover Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey. Our Austrian law member was the first in CEE to join the alliance. We have seen much expansion in recent years: in 2020, Feher Legal & Tax and Sora & Associates joined us, along with the Trpenoski Law Firm and Burcu Doner. In 2021, we expanded with Woloszanski & Partners and Foutsis & Partners. And the Milosevic Law Firm, Sabev & Partners, and MST Partners joined us in 2022. Our recent expansion in CEE has been very client driven. We have been seeing an increasing number of requests to service clients in these jurisdictions. Geographic growth enables members in the region to expand the business of their existing clients to new jurisdictions and puts AGA onto the radar of regional and international clients.
CEELM: What’s next?
Brake: Now that we have a substantial CEE network, the game plan of the Worldwide Board and regional committee is to ensure member firms work together as one. And we must ensure we continue to grow through the addition of quality new firms across the region, to perfect our coverage. Our CEE member firms will focus on working together and developing specific common solutions for clients in the region, and for those looking to expand out of the region. So international coverage is important, but the key is onboarding member firms that want to collaborate and develop common shared legal solutions for the region’s international companies.