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Inside Insight: Interview with Maxim Nikitin, Chief Legal Officer of Atol Group in Russia

Inside Insight: Interview with Maxim Nikitin, Chief Legal Officer of Atol Group in Russia

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Maxim Nikitin is the Chief Legal Officer of Atol Group in Russia. He started his career in law in 1998 at Debevoise & Plimpton. In 2001 he moved in-house before returning to private practice in 2011. In 2013 he moved back in-house as Chief Legal Officer with Virgin Connect, before moving to Atol in March of this year.

CEELM: When and why did you decide to become a lawyer? 

M.N.: I am from a lawyer’s family. My parents are both lawyers and apparently I was inspired to continue the family tradition from a young age. As I recall it, choosing my future career path was not a hard decision for me.

CEELM: You started your career in law in 1998. How has the market changed since that time?

M.N.: The market in Russia has changed dramatically since 1998. In the nineties the law was still in transition from the Soviet regulation to the current one. A lot of new areas of business were appearing, and the legal part was constantly lagging behind the requirements of the market. It was challenging to make a decision amid the lack of regulations because the results could not be predicted from the legal perspective. However, I would say it was an interesting time – and not only for lawyers. 

CEELM: Who is the one person you learned the most from?

M.N.: Wherever I’ve worked so far, I have always found colleagues from whom I could learn. And this is still true. I was perhaps also fortunate to meet and to work with strong professionals. We face new challenges every single day and each one is more difficult than the previous. 

CEELM: What kind of legal and personal skills are most valuable in your role at Atol Group?

M.N.: Risk assessment is the most required competence. Zero-risk solutions simply do not work. A lawyer has to understand business requirements and suggest solutions which prevent negative consequences and allow business to grow. In order to provide the right advice, lawyers must have strong management skills, be attentive to detail, and – at the same time – have a full view of the problem. 

CEELM: How big is your team? Did you put it together or did it exist before you arrived? 

M.N.: Before I joined Atol, the company had only one lawyer on board, and that was obviously not sufficient for the business. Now my team consists of four lawyers, plus myself. First, I examined the ongoing business processes in order to find out what bottlenecks were in the processes and what was still needed. After that I defined the areas that needed improvement and decided how big the team should be. Now each team member is assigned to a particular area. I think it is very important to find a balance between people’s specialization in order to better exploit their expertise and ensure some generality of skills to prevent disruptions if a designated lawyer is absent or cannot respond timely by any reason.

CEELM: What was the biggest challenge you faced in the last two years? How did you respond to it?

M.N.: As a matter of fact, the biggest challenge in my profession is the legislator. The law in Russia is still changing quite rapidly. What I studied twenty years ago at the university became irrelevant quite a long time ago and even what I learned two years ago has lost its relevance. You cannot rely on your own experience and you always have to check what the current legal regulations are. At least, basic legal principles have not changed dramatically and this helps sometimes. 

CEELM: If you could change one thing about the service you’ve received from external counsel, what would it be?

M.N.: The price. But it is utopia, of course, to expect legal advice for no cost. I understand why costs cannot be lower, because the quality cannot be compromised. What I expect from the external counsel is deep involvement in my business, which allows us to receive more professional and relevant advice.

CEELM: What’s your favorite tourist destination? Why?

M.N.: Usually I prefer active vacations. Lying on a beach with a glass of beer is definitely not my style. I love mountains, so usually, in the summer, we go hiking, in the winter, we go skiing. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to visit on this planet. If not the mountains, then it can be travelling without any exact destination – we just rent a car and go around the country, find nice rural places and observe life as it is. Something that you probably miss if you just visit capitals with their fancy life. 

This Article was originally published in Issue 5.9 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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