On June 23, 2022, CEE Legal Matters reported that Eversheds Sutherland entered the Bulgarian market by combining with Sofia-based "long-standing relationship firm" Tsvetkova Bebov & Partners. We spoke with the Bulgarian firm’s Co-Managing Partners Irina Tsvetkova and Nikolay Bebov to learn more about the tie-up and their plans going forward.
CEELM: First, congratulations on the new set-up! How did it come to be and for how long have you been working on this update?
Tsvetkova: We began discussions before the pandemic so the whole process took about three years. Eversheds Sutherland wanted to ensure that it was the right choice, both commercially and culturally, for both TBP and the firm. Eversheds Sutherland was keen to have a reach in the Bulgarian market and, on our side, we particularly had to assess the impact on our growth, the reaction of our clients, and the market as a whole.
CEELM: Were you actively seeking an international firm to team up with or did Eversheds first approach you?
Tsvetkova: We’ve known the partners at Eversheds Sutherland for many years and we have been cooperating on some projects. We have always benefited from excellent contacts with great firms (our history relates to PwC’s legal offering, and we have worked with many global law firms and on many global projects), so we always knew that our place is leaning towards an international feel – not only in relation to our way of working, ethics, and principles but also in view of the profile of our clients.
Bebov: On the other hand, we have always been deeply rooted in our Bulgarian and Balkan environment, with excellent domestic and regional clients, alongside our international ones. Both aspects surely made us an interesting partner to have discussions with.
CEELM: What were the main selling points for both sides in your view? Why does this tie-up make sense for you and why does it for Eversheds?
Tsvetkova: As I said, for us, it was all about working in an international environment, with high standards of quality, access to interesting multi-country projects, and access to international expertise and learning. For Eversheds Sutherland, it was a matter of expanding to a new country in CEE.
CEELM: And what made Bulgaria particularly attractive?
Bebov: Bulgaria has been a sustainably growing economy for the past decade, and the legal business follows suit.
CEELM: As with any such tie-up, there’s always going to be downsides – from a loss of some degree of independence to some potential referral work going away. What were the main factors you considered and (a) why did you decide they are not important and (b) how did you plan to minimize their impact?
Tsvetkova: Of course, we considered eventual risks to our business, potentially losing referrals from other international law firms. But we have had discussions with many of them and the majority reacted positively.
Bebov: For many of them, our quality as lawyers and our knowledge of the local market will prevail over the normal concerns of how you work together on a project with a potential competitor somewhere else. It also helps that Eversheds Sutherland has a network structure of independent law firms.
I have to point out that our clients and business contacts also reacted very positively to the news.
CEELM: How did the team members react to the news internally? What were the main concerns raised and how were their minds put at ease?
Tsvetkova: The team reacted very positively – for our staff to be a part of a global law firm in Bulgaria, with access to even more interesting clients and projects and with the opportunity to learn and get know-how from a wider team, is a big advantage. Of course, every change raises some concerns. But we have been very transparent and open in our communications, and our colleagues from Eversheds Sutherland invested a lot of time during the onboarding process – they did presentations on every aspect of teaming up and the new requirements and opportunities and made people feel like they are a part of the wider team. I have to say that the onboarding was fantastically organized.
CEELM: What about the local bar association(s)? How open are they to such moves and what are the main, if any, barriers currently in place that had to be overcome?
Bebov: Bulgaria’s Bar, and the Sofia Bar Association in our case, are well-functioning self-governing organizations. We believe that the legal profession in Bulgaria is maintaining a high stature and Bulgarian lawyers hold high values, and of course, the legal profession is also changing and adapting to Bulgaria’s status of an open economy, which evolves continuously. Also, we have had on the Bulgarian market, for many years, quite a few international players or groupings, so we are not unique in this respect. Importantly, we continue to view ourselves proudly as part of the legal profession in Bulgaria.
CEELM: The announcement went out and the firm is now officially a part of the Eversheds family. What are the next steps in your ongoing integration efforts?
Tsvetkova: To continue to provide high-quality services to our clients, to be an active member of the network, and to grow Eversheds Sutherland’s client base.
CEELM: What will be the biggest challenge and what are you most excited about going forward?
Bebov: The biggest challenge will be overcoming the context of the current economic situation in Europe and worldwide.
Tsvetkova: We are excited to be a part of a global network, we are eager to meet our new colleagues and to actively contribute, based on our history and track record, to the growth of the network and its client base.
CEELM: Looking at the overall Bulgarian market, do you believe there is a business case for further internationals to contemplate entering the market? And why?
Bebov: The market is growing but it is hard to opine on the pace of this growth, especially having in mind all the negative global developments since 2020. As part of this market, we will be welcoming all developments that make it more sophisticated, more ethical, and more advanced.