Sipping on some Tamjanika wine, overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers on one side, and the Belgrade Waterfront on the other, I was once again amazed at how much the City of Belgrade has changed over the years.
I was attending the CEE Legal Matters Winter Gala celebration, a time for the best lawyers in the region to get together and let their hair down and, this year, enjoy what Belgrade has to offer. It was a great evening and the perfect chance to meet up with some of the movers and shakers in the region.
Speaking to such an interesting, intelligent bunch of people, I was reminded of my days studying Greek and Roman Law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. It was there that I originally came across the Ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who said:
“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.”
I think that we all agreed, at the Winter Gala, that this quotation was not only relevant for Belgrade but also for the region, and all its legal professionals.
When I look back to when I was first in Belgrade for business reasons in 2002, it is now like a different city. So much has changed and so much progress has been made in turning it into an admired metropolis. Indeed, I see Belgrade as a symbol for how much the whole of the region (particularly the former Yugoslavia and Western Balkans) has developed and progressed into a serious place for investment and development since the 1990s.
Along with the remarkable development of these countries, comes a much more reliable investment and business environment. And hand-in-hand with this, comes a much more sophisticated legal market.
I remember when I was seconded to Merrill Lynch in Belgrade back in 2007 (when it bought a stake in MPC Properties). I was constantly being presented with reports and legal analysis that took a warts-and-all disclosure approach, presenting the client with every potential problem that it may come across. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important, but applying that knowledge to the facts and providing answers to specific legal problems is fundamental. I know it sounds like a sound bite and a bit of a cliché, but lawyers in the region are now much more solutions driven.
As everyone is more accustomed to now, clients expect an exemplary service whereby they get advice delivered quickly and simply. Law firms in the region have been very successful in adapting to these expectations and helping their lawyers deliver legal advice via several customer-focused pathways. It’s now no longer acceptable (was it ever?) to deliver just a blurb of legal advice. Not only does the advice have to be based on excellent legal knowledge but it also has to be delivered very quickly and in a way that is easily digestible by the client.
Having a deep understanding of the law as well as excellent logical, analytical, research, and writing skills are all hallmarks of a good lawyer. However, the very top lawyers, the crème de la crème, are not only logical and analytical, but also display a great deal of creativity in their problem solving. Solutions to legal problems are not always obvious.
From what I can see though, the firms in the region are stepping up to the plate. I would say that lawyers who are successfully practicing law in the region today are doing so at a standard that definitely is on par with their colleagues in western or international law firms.
So, as I was sat there, sipping on my Tamjanika wine at the Winter Gala in Belgrade, I thought to myself: long may the law firms in the region continue to flourish! Let them continue to embrace the ongoing development in how legal services are provided and continue to strive to be the best. My heartfelt congratulations went out to them all for the amazing progress made in the legal field in CEE over the years – not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on themselves daily – excellent progress!