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In Its DNA: Deloitte Legal’s Growth and Plans in CEE

In Its DNA: Deloitte Legal’s Growth and Plans in CEE

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Deloitte Legal has been registering impressive growth in the CEE region. CEE Legal Matters sat down with Andrei Burz-Pinzaru, Head of Deloitte Legal in Central Europe, to learn more about what fueled the development of Deloitte’s legal services function and what the firm’s plans are for the future.

A Look Back

“According to my assessment, we might be the largest legal practice in the region, by number of lawyers,” says Andrei Burz-Pinzaru, Head of Deloitte Legal in Central Europe, who points to a headcount of 360 lawyers across 14 countries. 

“Poland has the largest team, with close to 100 lawyers, followed by Romania and the Czech Republic, each with more than 70 lawyers,” he adds, noting that Deloitte Legal represents the 5th or 6th largest law firm in each of those jurisdictions in terms of headcount. 

The first law firm affiliated with Deloitte Legal in the region – Reff and Associates – was set up 11 years ago, but that does not fully encapsulate the legal services line history in Romania. “I first joined Deloitte in 2002,” Burz-Pinzaru recalls, “and at the time Alexandru Reff, who is currently the Country Managing Partner of Deloitte Romania, had already been working within Deloitte for a while. At that moment, the law firm Reff & Associates was not set up as we know it today. Instead, we were supporting clients on legal matters as lawyers working independently and in cooperation with Deloitte.” 

Reff & Associates was set up in Romania in 2007, and Polish and Czech offices soon followed. “We have a different story in each country from CEE,” Burz-Pinzaru recalls. “For example, in Poland we grew organically, and then accelerated over the last couple of years with two lateral hires at the partner level, and in the Czech Republic a defining moment was in 2011 when Ambruz & Dark – the former PwC Legal firm in the country – joined Deloitte Legal.” Like Poland, other offices also started with an organic growth trajectory but kicked things into high gear with strategic hires down the line: “In Hungary,” Burz-Pinzaru says, “the approach was to develop talent internally. About five years ago we refreshed the strategy and started to make notable lateral hires, such as with Erdos Gabor, the current Managing Partner there, who joined from Wolf Theiss and significantly grew the practice since then, reaching 30 lawyers today. Similarly, Bulgaria has had a legal practice in place for more than 15 years, but things started to take a whole new perspective in 2014 when Reneta Petkova joined from CMS.”

Two defining moments in Deloitte Legal’s history came five and then four years ago, according to Burz-Pinzaru. “Deloitte is – and it also was at the time – the largest of the Big 4 advisory firms in the world, but it did not really have a clear global strategy in terms of its legal services. As can be seen from the previous examples, the development of each member firm was more defined on a country by country basis.” All that changed when Piet Hein Meeter, formerly CEO of Deloitte Netherlands, was appointed as Global Managing Director for Deloitte Legal in 2014,  and then the next year,when Punit Renjen became Deloitte’s global CEO (a role he continues to hold today). 

“From that moment on, things changed significantly,” Burz-Pinzaru says, and he reports that the firm’s legal services arm expanded in CEE even faster than in other parts of the world. “I’d say, out of our legal practices globally, CEE is one of the strongest. That is reflected also in the fact that we have a seat on the Global Legal Executive Committee in which the largest practices are represented. It confirms that we are definitely perceived as a top legal practice in the Deloitte Legal world.”

Building an Image

Developing and promoting a consistent brand is not always easy to do for a firm affiliated with Deloitte, Burz-Pinzaru admits, when the confusing subject of the firm’s name in Bucharest is raised. “It’s strictly a matter of bar rules,” he explains, when he is asked why his business card says Reff & Associates rather than Deloitte Legal: “In some jurisdictions bar associations allow the use of Deloitte’s name, while others oppose it.” For instance, he says, “in Poland, using the word ‘Deloitte’ in the name is not an issue, while in Romania it is not allowed.” Ultimately, he waves off any suggestion that this represents a major problem. “Would it be better if we could? Of course yes – but we are not stuck in it; we just move on.” 

But a brand is not just a name, and, especially in professional services, the work a firm executes goes a long way towards building up a reputation. Burz-Pinzaru rejects the “myth” that Big 4-affiliated firms tend to work on commoditized matters, profiting by virtue of their referral pipelines, and that, for truly sophisticated legal matters, they are not real competitors to traditional law firms. First, he insists, the nature of the referral pipeline has to be looked at. “What’s the reason for a lawyer to be a part of a Big 4? Because they refer clients? Sure, but the level of referrals depends on the quality of service you can provide. The Big 4 represents the ‘Magic Circle’ of the tax and accounting world, so these professionals will only refer work to lawyers they perceive to be at the same professional level as they are.” As a result, he says, “the simple reality is that successful legal practices within Deloitte are not successful due to Deloitte’s referrals, but because they operate at a level where they build up the trust needed to be referred by Deloitte professionals.”

Burz-Pinzaro continues. “Second – and this is not just a marketing talking point – we can really address client needs from multiple perspectives.” According to him, “most of our lawyers have a better understanding of fiscal and financial issues than other lawyers simply by virtue of collaborating with tax professionals constantly.” And this point, Burz-Pinzaru insists, impacts the way Deloitte Legal is perceived by potential hires. “We have vast resources of global knowledge at our disposal, which is very appealing to people considering joining us from other firms. For example, a lawyer to work on a blockchain matter would have to read up and research the field from various sources. In our case, a colleague from Deloitte Digital is a simple click away from access to the Deloitte Blockchain Institute as well as to the vast global network of Deloitte, the largest professional services firm in the world.”

Embracing Change (and The Future)

“In terms of CEE we are happy with our footprint,” Burz-Pinzaru says about the short- and mid-term plans of the firm. “We’ve grown rather spectacularly, and we are still looking to grow. When we put together our regional strategy one year and a half ago we estimated that in the next five years we’ll double our size.” Still, he emphasizes that the main focus continues to be on organic growth. “We’re not really looking to merge with full firms, but we welcome the right people, those viewed as top lawyers in their markets who also understand the benefits of working in a Big 4 environment and are able to embrace the idea of bundled services delivery.”

And Burz-Pinzaru insists the firm’s goals are set high. “I mean no disrespect to the other Big 4, but the way we benchmark is relative to the legal market as a whole, not just the legal arms of Big 4s. For example, Reff and Associates has been the largest legal practice of the Big 4 by far for many years in Romania, [but] we don’t believe that there’s nothing else to do. That’s simply not our benchmark, and while we’re already ranked as a leading law firm in several practice areas, such as Real Estate, M&A, and Banking, we’ll continue to aspire to develop all our practices.”

Finally, Burz-Pinzaru points with pride to the several recent senior hires from “established” law firms across CEE – and claims that more can be expected soon. “I think it comes down to how we are positioned,” he explains, adding, “I recently listened to a presentation arguing that people typically react based on fear. The unknown can be a large source of anxiety. Nowadays there are so many developments in different areas, which might discomfort us. That is why we need to have an attitude of open-mindedness. Where others may see the concerns raised by the unknown, we see opportunity. For example, some people believe that AI – and tech in general –  may mean the end of lawyers. We don’t perceive that as an area of concern. We’re embracing it – everything from due diligence tools to automatization tools, and all the other real opportunities it may provide. I think it’s simply something better embedded in our organization’s DNA, and I am happy to see we’re getting positive signs based on this perception from the legal talent we’re looking to attract.” 

This Article was originally published in Issue 5.12 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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