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The Corner Office: 2024 Wishes and Perils

The Corner Office: 2024 Wishes and Perils

Issue 10.12
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In The Corner Office, we ask Managing Partners at law firms across Central and Eastern Europe about their backgrounds, strategies, and responsibilities. As we bid farewell to 2023, this time around we turn our attention forward: What is your one main wish for 2024 and what do you see as the biggest potential risk?

Octavian Popescu, Managing Partner, Popescu & Asociatii: Unfortunately, we are going through quite a difficult period, with a war right on Romania’s borders and other armed conflicts around the world. The human and financial implications are enormous, causing humanitarian and energy crises, political instability, economic disruption, cybersecurity threats, etc. Thus, in terms of the biggest potential risk, from my point of view, this would be the regional insecurity derived from armed conflicts.

In this regard, my main wish for 2024 is to have economic security at the national and international levels. Each of us can contribute to strengthening the level of economic security by considering long-term investment strategies, being adaptable and open to new opportunities, building and maintaining strong professional network, and, of course, being permanently updated about trends, investment options, etc.

Andrej Leontiev, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Slovakia: We believe that 2024 will be a year of immense economic, political, and environmental challenges for Slovakia. As a result of the general elections, the risk of institutions being weakened and threats to democracy are growing. The probability of economic recession and demographic polarization is rising. Tackling climate change and boosting a knowledge-based economy will become more difficult. In general, during challenging times decentralized law firms like ours are better positioned to quickly adjust to changing, even deteriorating conditions. Therefore, I wish we and our clients will have the opportunity and ability to make important decisions further down the corporate hierarchy – where the decision-making process usually matches with local expertise the best.

Radan Kubr, Managing Partner, PRK Partners: Quite immodestly, I do not have a single wish for 2024, but several. I wish that the bloody conflicts rocking the world and its economy, including the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the war in Gaza, are brought to an end. The war in Ukraine has wreaked havoc and devastation on Ukraine, a country that is almost a neighbor of the Czech Republic and for which the Czechs have particular sympathy, as citizens of a country that has lived under 40 years of USSR-imposed communist rule.  The biggest risk is obviously that those conflicts will drag on in 2024 and beyond and that new conflicts will break out. I also wish that the Czech Republic, which has recently been called the “sick man of Europe” by the German daily Die Welt, will eventually find a new path to prosperity. As a dual Czech-Swiss national, I wish the country would draw inspiration from a competitive one like Switzerland, which has an excellent education system, invests heavily in R&D, and has created a favorable environment for start-ups.

Nazar Chernyavsky, Managing Partner, Sayenko Kharenko: To end the war. I believe this wish is shared by millions of Ukrainians and people all over the world. It has become evident that we are not getting sufficient support to reclaim the occupied territories. Thus, we should switch to defending what is under our control and ensure it is rebuilt, so that after the fall of Putin’s regime we can easily integrate those other territories. The biggest threat accordingly is if the West chooses to stop its support of Ukraine, and we are not able to protect our people and prove they were not fighting in vain. Now is the best moment to consolidate the nation around its future and democratic values, implement all needed reforms, and start the rebuilding process, which should create growth opportunities for the whole EU. It will be a shame if this chance is not used.

Ewelina Stobiecka, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Poland: My main wish for 2024 is to continue to build the firm’s reputation for excellence and expand our client base with a stable team of committed and talented people. We want to strengthen our presence in the new technology sector, maintain key client relationships, and attract top legal talent to ensure sustained growth. Recognizing that 2024 will be a pivotal year for our main practice areas, including cyber, technologies, and renewable energy, we intend to drive growth in these critical areas. This includes investing in cutting-edge technology to streamline operations and improve client service, positioning us as a leader in the legal landscape. We are aware of the potential risks arising from the geopolitical and macroeconomic landscape. Navigating these uncertainties while maintaining compliance and fostering innovation will be central to our success in the year ahead.

Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Czech Republic: My wishes for the coming year are positive economic development, satisfied clients, and happy employees. I am optimistic that these are not just wishes to Santa Claus, but that their fulfillment is realistic. With regard to the Czech market, I still see the biggest risk in the very low unemployment rate and the associated daily challenge of attracting new employees while retaining the existing team. Our employees are not only our capital but also multipliers; if they are not satisfied, they will not only leave the company but also speak negatively about us. We are therefore constantly endeavoring to counteract the trend of “job hopping” by investing in our team.

Ivana Ruzicic, Managing Partner, PR Legal: My primary wish is to witness a transformative chapter in our development. Our focus remains steadfast on the three pillars of success: fostering client relationships, attracting new corporate clients, and nurturing the internal growth of our talented team. In the pursuit of attracting new corporate clients, we aim to leverage our expertise and adaptability to meet the evolving needs of the business landscape. Our commitment to staying abreast of legal trends and technological advancements positions us as a dynamic legal partner for companies seeking reliable counsel. The internal development of our team is paramount. We envision a workplace that thrives on innovation, collaboration, and continuous learning. Through tailored training programs and mentorship initiatives, we aspire to empower our associates, enabling them to excel and contribute meaningfully to our clients’ success. However, amidst this optimism, it’s crucial to acknowledge potential risks that could impede our trajectory. Market volatility, regulatory changes, and unforeseen global events pose significant threats. A proactive approach to risk management, including scenario planning and continuous monitoring of external factors, will be pivotal in mitigating these challenges. By fostering a culture of resilience, innovation, and adaptability, we are confident in our ability to navigate the complex legal landscape in 2024.

Ana Tosic Cubrinovski, Managing Partner, Tosic & Jevtic: I wish for legislation that mirrors the evolving pulse of society, eliminating unnecessary barriers and obstacles. Within our legislation, we encounter instances of outdated and unenforceable provisions, as well as legal loopholes that extend deep into the system, presenting tangible challenges. Even newly enacted laws, at times, offer solutions that lack legal coherence. Our business communities often grapple with the challenges posed by ambiguously defined legal terms, which, in turn, lead to the dissemination of perplexing and impractical decisions affecting managers and their teams, resulting in additional costs but also causing significant delays, impacting overall productivity and efficiency. I strongly advocate for urgent reform within our system, specifically in the meticulous formulation of accurate concepts when adopting new laws and amending existing ones. Failing to address this concern heightens the risk of fostering an unfavorable economic climate and discontent among citizens. Swift action is imperative to prevent these repercussions and ensure a more responsive and effective legal framework.

Guenther Hanslik, Managing Partner, CMS Vienna: My main wish for 2024 is that we continue to strengthen and grow our teams in the jurisdictions we cover and across our practice groups. For us, growth means personal and professional growth for each and every one of our team members. We want to enable our colleagues to develop their skills and take the next step in their development. If we do this right, we can provide a better service to our clients. The war in Ukraine, where we also have an office and a team on the ground, remains one of our biggest challenges. As such, the biggest wish for 2024 is still that the war in Ukraine will come to an end and that the CMS team will play a major role in rebuilding the country.

Uros Cop, Managing Partner, Senica & Partners: As the Managing Partner of Senica & Partners, I anticipate that Slovenia’s legal framework will require robust adaptation in 2024 to support economic resilience. While economic slowdown and labor shortages persist, our legal system must catalyze sustainable growth, fostering innovation and protecting workforce interests. The most significant risk is the widening gap between wage growth and productivity in high inflation. If not addressed, this imbalance may lead to prolonged economic downturns, negatively impacting our competitiveness in the global market. To mitigate this, we must focus on harmonizing labor laws with market realities, ensuring they facilitate rather than hinder economic stability and growth. Slovenia’s response must be twofold: firstly, revising employment and corporate regulations to attract foreign investments and promote domestic business expansion. Secondly, implementing legal reforms that enhance workforce skill development aligns with industry needs. This proactive legal approach can bridge the gap between current economic challenges and future prosperity, positioning Slovenia as a resilient and dynamic economy in the European landscape.

Alina Popescu, Managing Partner, MPR Partners: I hope that 2024 will bring a more extensive use of technologies by small and medium law firms. This would require better access to technology education and information, tools adapted to their specific needs, and pricing models that make sense. In addition, legislation fostering innovation and investments in legal services is paramount, as rigid laws amount to unwarranted barriers to development in this field. Considering the outstanding progress of AI, in lack of an accelerated adoption of legal technology there is a real risk that smaller firms will be seriously affected. With clients very much expecting lawyers to use cost-saving technologies, bigger firms having the requisite vision, teams, and budgets are likely to increase their market shares very quickly, to the detriment of smaller firms. At the same time, firms based in countries where legislation allows more flexibility for investments and innovation are likely to continue earning the lion’s share of the global legal fees. This will only accentuate with the development of legal technologies. Furthermore, liberal legislation governing legal services will contribute to fostering foreign investment and entrepreneurship in those countries, since streamlined, cost-effective legal services greatly reduce transactional costs and the speed of investment projects, amongst other things.

Pavel Dejl, Managing Partner, Kocian Solc Balastik: My main wish for 2024 is to see our legal practice continue its trajectory of growth and innovation. We aspire to strengthen our position as one of the leading Czech law firms, as well as expand our international footprint and enhance our client-centric approach. Embracing technology and fostering a collaborative culture within our team is pivotal to achieving this goal. The greatest potential obstacle lies in navigating the evolving global regulatory landscape. As laws and policies continue to shift, staying abreast of these changes and ensuring compliance will be a dynamic challenge. Geopolitical uncertainties and the potential impact of unforeseen events could also pose significant risks. Therefore, our focus in 2024 will be on maintaining agility, proactively adapting to legal developments, and fortifying our risk management strategies.

Ion Nestor, Co-Managing Partner, Nestor Nestor Diculescu Kingston Petersen: Each year, December is the moment when you feel the need to look back at what you have achieved and make a wish for the year to come. Looking around, it is easy to notice that our world is unfortunately in one of its most difficult periods in over 75 years. We are witnessing a combination of growing political and military tension, harsh climate changes, and serious economic problems, facing a polarized and divided world, so what could my main wish be for next year?  In terms of priorities, I would like to see a gradual disengagement on the Ukrainian front with, possibly, the initiation of peace talks and an end to the current tragedy in the Middle East crisis. Only then, could the other major problems that we are facing on planet Earth – economic, social, environmental – be taken care of efficiently. Otherwise, I fear that all the wishes that we can make, each of us, at the local level, may prove insufficient and ineffective.

Cristina Filip, Managing Partner, Filip & Company: My one main wish for 2024 is for us, the people, to mend our way towards hope, peace, and wholeness in our souls, in our homes, and in our countries. I see it as the biggest potential risk for us to fall prey to fear and hatred and spiral down on the broken path of discord, extremism, violence, and annihilation.

Bernhard Hager, Managing Partner, Eversheds Sutherland Slovakia: My main wish for 2024 is that we continue where we stopped in 2023 – a firm where people like to be and who clients like to work with. In CEE we are not immune from geopolitical and economic risks. The economic outlook for the region is worse than in recent years and investors are skeptical over political developments in the region and the war in Ukraine. 

Borivoj Libal, Co-Managing Partner, Eversheds Sutherland Czech Republic: I wish people would appreciate simple things more, respect and cherish our relations, and protect basic values that are often taken for granted. A potential risk: the escalation of wars without bold international peacemaking efforts to restore security.

Bogdan Gecic, Managing Partner, Gecic Law: I am deeply convinced that we are witnessing a revolution with the immense potential to rapidly redefine the role of a law firm in a dynamic regional market like ours. Heading into 2024, my main wish is to see the true integration of cutting-edge technology into our legal practices, enhancing the efficiency and accessibility of services. This transformation is poised to be predominantly marked by the adoption of rapid advancements in the field of artificial intelligence. By leveraging AI to automate routine tasks, we can focus on more complex legal issues that demand in-depth expertise and strategic thinking. This paradigm shift will greatly benefit our clients by expanding the impact and scope of our services while optimizing costs. A primary concern for 2024 is the ongoing threat of a recession in major global economies. Such instability could further dampen the region’s economic prospects, increasing upward pressure on costs. The repercussions of this could manifest in our region through heightened inflation, diminished exports, and a downturn in both foreign and local investment activities. This uncertain economic landscape could create an unfavorable market for legal services, thus presenting significant challenges in terms of strategic planning and client relations.

Pal Jalsovszky, Managing Partner, Jalsovszky: My wish is for peace and economic stability. Risks ... there are plenty of them in our global world: climate change, migration, wars, and US/China commercial disputes, just to name some of them. And specific Hungarian risk factors are added to this list. The main internal risk factor is, in my opinion, the bad shape of the national budget. Tax revenues are lower than expected, EU funds are still missing, and interest costs on government debt are skyrocketing. The question is how the government will restore the balance and what impact it will have on businesses.

Nemanja Stepanovic, Managing Director, JPM Partners: Choosing just one wish for 2024 would certainly be a challenge. While world peace, prosperity, and equal opportunity are all noble aspirations, my wish is much more prosaic – it relates to JPM and JPM only. I wish to further expand our coherence, team spirit, and drive to work together not because it’s our profession (which it definitely is) but because we genuinely care and like what we do, where we do, and with the people we do. As for potential risks in the coming year, accurately predicting specific hazards in Serbia is a kind of Mission Impossible.  The equation is too complicated and with too many unknowns that I would not dare (considering my previous experiences) to name one. On the bright side, whatever risks we may face in 2024 are within the “been there, done that” realm. So instead of risks, we will remain focused on nurturing our relationships as those will be what carries us through 2024.

Tarik Guleryuz, Partner, Guleryuz Partners: We have gone through very rough days since December 2019. Pandemic, wars, earthquakes, economic and political shifts, and several others. All these have left a mark on our lives, business, and global markets. This has underscored the importance and necessity of volunteer work once again and why it should never fall off the agenda. We heavily invest in our pro bono projects in Turkiye and work together with institutions, foundations, and other organizations to provide legal advice to persons in need of help. I would like to see more and more firms support charitable organizations in 2024 so that we can expand our reach to those in need globally. The biggest potential risk against this might be the increasing economic instability (including as a result of local elections in Turkiye due to take place in March 2024), which is likely to shift many into a survival instinct where the focus will be on corporate stability only.

Tomasz Stasiak, Co-Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss Poland: My biggest wish for the upcoming year is for the Russian invasion of Ukraine to end, bringing peace to the people of Ukraine and adding to the economic stability of the region. That said, my greatest concern is the possibility of Western societies stepping back and leaving Ukraine to face the aggression on its own. If this happens, predatory nations may learn that aggression pays off. CEE is a stable region with a positive economic outlook for 2024 and beyond. In particular, Poland is expected to achieve 3% GDP growth next year. This means a great opportunity compared to so-called “stable” economies which are torn by social conflicts with stagnation on the horizon and a shortage of educated labor force. CEE nations are used to hard work and are willing to put effort into continuous economic development.

Branislav Zivkovic, Managing Partner, Zivkovic Samardzic:  The goldfish would give me three wishes, yet you allow only one, so a bit of a tough choice. 2024 world peace would always be a good choice, but let’s be more specific: Serbia has been, for decades, a hostage of Kosovo. Approximately 90,000 Serbs are still living there in a hostile environment. My wish is for this issue to be resolved in 2024 so we can move forward and become a part of the civilized world, a part of Europe. This would have a huge impact on all businesses – law firms included – and would make us a respectable country and allow us to fully utilize the new nearshoring policy of the West. With other advantages, we could become real leaders in the region in many areas. And all that would truly transform and modernize the legal profession. The biggest risk is, in my opinion, choosing the opposite – to continue to fight the already lost battle and throw our country back in the mud of the 90s.

Kostadin Sirleshtov, Managing Partner, CMS Sofia: My main wish for 2024 is for CMS Sofia to continue its sustainable development – to promote a new partner and head of the group, to be in a position to increase salaries and benefits for the team, and to continue providing best services for our growing client base. The biggest potential risk for our wish for sustainability is an event that disturbs our plans: global economic downturn, escalation of conflicts, etc. In my view, an economic downturn has the highest likelihood of happening.

Done Yalcin, Managing Partner, CMS Turkiye: Attending COP28 in person gave me the extraordinary opportunity to participate in numerous meetings and discussions. These experiences underscored the magnitude of the threat that the climate crisis poses to our economies, livelihoods, and existing systems. At the same time, it represents a significant opportunity for transformation and prosperity. As a result, my hope for 2024 is a seismic shift toward global sustainability, with companies, nations, and other stakeholders embracing the transformative potential of consistently integrating ESG principles into their decision-making and operations. I would like to see a convergence of legal, corporate, and societal efforts to address the pressing challenges of our time. However, the greatest potential risk lies in the failure to take the necessary action with the necessary speed. As awareness grows, the absence of comprehensive and rapid action poses a serious threat. Insufficient commitment to sustainable practices and the absence of robust, enforceable regulations could hold back progress and increase environmental degradation and social inequalities. To mitigate this risk, lawyers, businesses, and policymakers must unite to advocate for transformative policies and create a sense of urgency.

Timur Bondaryev, Managing Partner, Arzinger: Given the circumstances that Ukraine and the people of Ukraine have been living in since February 24, 2022, the main wish for all of us for 2024 remains peace and victory. We sincerely hope, that the war will be over in 2024 and that Ukraine and the world will go back to normal. Most recent developments in the world have not been really promising and it looks like we will have to adjust to the new-old reality and embrace the brutal fact, that we will have to learn to live and do business during a war for quite a long period of time.

It’s obvious, that the prosperity of a major corporate law firm largely depends on the economy of the country, and developments in the frontline will be the main factor to influence the situation in the country in the years to come. Major Ukrainian businesses have already adjusted to the new-old normal and have demonstrated tremendous resilience, in living and doing business under the missile strikes. Moreover, my prediction is, that if the situation will not become significantly worse and will, at least, remain as it is, we will see further economic development and growth. The West tends to forget, that our country has been living at war since 2014. This means that we have been adjusting ourselves to the war-time reality for a long time, even if the scale of the most recent horrible full-fledged invasion cannot be compared with the previous status quo.

Alexander Petsche, Managing Partner, Baker McKenzie Vienna: In 2024, my aspiration is to continue to build on our cross-border collaboration as well as our local knowledge with our teams all over the world. The CEE region remains a strategic anchor for our offices worldwide, especially in Vienna. Looking ahead, the predominant risk will entail navigating diverse – and stringent – regulatory landscapes, demanding proactive strategies to mitigate legal complexities, and ensuring continued success amidst uncertainty, all of which pose both challenges and opportunities for businesses.

Serhii Sviriba, Co-Managing Partner, Asters: In recent years, humanity has had to overcome a number of challenges such as pandemics, natural disasters, armed conflicts, and nuclear threats, which have caused much suffering, loss, and destruction. It is not in our power to stop the forces of nature, but what we can do is influence the disasters that humans cause. Undoubtedly, the greatest wish of many Ukrainians and the entire civilized world is to stop Russia in its brutal full-scale invasion and force the aggressor state to pay for all the suffering. We do not harbor the hope that this will happen next year. The enemy is strong, but Ukrainians will continue to fight for their freedom, democratic values, and independent future. This fight is hardly possible without support from our international partners. This statement gives rise to the greatest potential risk – if there is not enough support for Ukraine, the entire democratic world with its values will face even bigger threats: a chain of aggressive wars against democracies clearly being the greatest risk for humanity.

Akos Fehervary, Managing Partner, Baker McKenzie Budapest: My foremost hope is for a resolution to the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. Beyond the devastating humanitarian impact, global business is evidently tied to geopolitical stability. A peaceful resolution not only serves the affected regions but also establishes a more predictable environment for international business and, thus, our legal practices. For Hungary, I wish for the settlement of the long-standing process with the EU toward releasing those funds due to the country, which could give a great boost to the national economy. Moreover, a significant concern in 2024 revolves around the responsible integration of AI into business processes, as well as within the legal sector. As AI permeates various facets of our work, the associated risks related to data privacy, ethical considerations, and the necessity for robust regulatory frameworks become paramount. Balancing the advantages of AI-driven efficiency with the imperative to uphold ethical and legal standards poses a formidable challenge. It is crucial for organizations – law firms included – to adapt swiftly and responsibly to this technological shift, but adequate safeguards are to be established regarding the development and use thereof.

Oliver Werner, Managing Partner, CMS Bratislava: In 2024, I hold two key aspirations: (1) Enhancing Legal Compliance: I envision a year marked by heightened adherence to legal standards in all aspects of business operations, including transactions; and (2) Accelerating M&A Activity: I foresee a surge in M&A activity in 2024, driven by a favorable economic climate and a growing appetite for innovation and expansion. As Slovakia’s business landscape continues to evolve, M&A deals will play a pivotal role in driving growth and consolidation.

The primary risk I foresee is the potential for legal non-compliance to hinder M&A activity and tarnish Slovakia’s reputation as a business-friendly destination. Failure to adhere to regulatory requirements, such as anti-corruption laws, can delay or derail transactions, potentially undermining investor confidence. By embracing legal compliance and fostering a favorable environment for M&A activity, Slovakia can position itself as a leading destination for investment and economic growth in 2024 and beyond.

Istvan Szatmary, Managing Partner, Oppenheim: My one main wish for 2024 is meaningful dialogue. There seem to be so many significant topics on the table both globally and locally that need to be solved very soon to make sure that our life – as we live it now – remains sustainable. That is why we need to listen to each other much more than ever before, remain calm, and pursue meaningful discussions on our long-term visions for the global and local economy, our businesses, the role of science, technology, and AI in our life and the impact of all these on our everyday life. Each of us needs to find out how we personally can contribute to our common visions. In the post-industrial era, we all struggle to filter relevant and reliable information – fake news, information bubbles and all the noise on social media make it almost impossible to decide what to accept and what to doubt. My biggest fear is that sounds of sobriety would not be heard in the information noise and we have no plan(et) B. I hope we all realize in 2024 what we need to do and what we can do to overcome all these challenges.

Marcin Wierzbicki, Managing Partner, KWKR Konieczny Wierzbicki and Partners: As I reflect on the challenges and dynamic changes of the past year, it becomes apparent to me that the modern world operates at an accelerated pace, requiring quick responses and adaptability. Looking ahead to 2024, my main aspiration is to continue to support clients in navigating the current regulatory landscape, coupled with a passionate call for regulatory simplification as soon as possible. I believe this is the key to increasing business opportunities in Poland. The legal environment must support this development. As opposed to striving for calm, I am emphasizing the tangible delivery of our ambitious forward-looking plans, which have already been set in motion. Recognizing the potential risks associated with Poland’s unfavorable regulatory environment, I approach them with unwavering confidence, reinforced by our firm’s resilience to the challenges of the past year. I see the legal landscape not as an obstacle, but as a sphere of unlimited opportunity for a company capable of dynamic responses.

This article was originally published in Issue 10.12 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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