On July 28, 2020, CEE Legal Matters reported that Olena Kuchynska had been appointed the new Managing Partner of the Kinstellar’s Kyiv office. After a few months of settling in, we spoke with Olena to learn more about the team she’s been appointed to lead and her plans for the future.
CEELM: First, congratulations on the new role. This must be an exciting time for you, and a high mark of your career.
Olena: Thank you! This is certainly a very exciting time and a very challenging change in my professional life, especially given the overall circumstances in which we all find ourselves now.
CEELM: How has the current climate impacted your appointment?
Olena: Working from home is particularly challenging when dealing with a leadership change. Not being able to gather people together, look into their eyes, or speak to them directly create additional obstacles. Of course, we are doing our best to adapt, we have set up various communication channels, like regular calls or occasional meetings, but it’s just not the same as being able to pop by for a few minutes and pick someone’s brain over a particular matter, or to sense what concerns your colleagues may have at a particular moment in time. However, I think we have learned to cope with this quite well.
CEELM: Why do you think you were selected to lead the office going forward?
Olena: Before my appointment, we had several long discussions with the firm management. I think that management believed that I had the requisite skill set needed to keep the office running and to develop it in this particular set of circumstances. While I don’t have prior experience running a law firm, I do have almost two decades of professional experience, including managing complex projects and teams.
Our office is not like many other law firms in that we are not very big and our team of lawyers and business support staff is very closely knit. Our firm culture is, I believe, unique in that we are very supportive of each other and cooperative. And I think that the firm’s management saw me as someone who can continue to nurture that culture. I am a supporter of a transformational, collaborative style of leadership and I think that is what ensures people’s trust and confidence in the future, and this keeps the team going.
CEELM: Tell us about the office you are inheriting – how many fee-earners, how many partners, how is it all structured – and tell us a little bit about the firm’s experience in Ukraine to date?
Olena: We are a mid-sized office with 15 lawyers and several support staff. Including myself, the office has three partners and two counsels. We are a full-service practice. My specific area of focus is the energy and natural resources sector, which also covers environmental, as well as corporate governance and general corporate law. My fellow partner Iryna Nikolayevska focuses on corporate and M&A, as well as compliance matters, while partner Olexander Martinenko, who recently joined us, leads our local dispute resolution and commercial practices. The banking & finance practice is led by counsel Andriy Nikiforov and our other counsel, Oleg Matiusha, heads the local infrastructure, real estate & construction practices.
I am convinced that over the past five years since Kinstellar launched its office in Ukraine, we have gathered a strong team of professionals, built a good reputation on the market, and achieved significant milestones. We are consistently ranked by leading international directories and other benchmark publications among the top law firms in many areas, including dispute resolution and white-collar crime, which has been traditionally one of our core practices, as well as corporate and M&A, energy, real estate and construction, banking and finance, competition, and few others.
We have developed a good pool of clients, and have been working with big local and international companies, major foreign investors, and international financial institutions on several remarkable projects. One of the most recent, that we are very proud of, is advising Qatar-based QTerminals on the over USD 120 million Olvia Sea Port concession project, the largest seaport concession to date in Ukraine. It has been a unique experience on the market as we are acting for a private investor and have supported them at all stages of the pilot project, starting from the preparation of the tender, negotiations of the concession agreement, all the way up to now, when the client needs assistance with various implementations matters. We are currently working on one of the biggest and most complex privatization projects in Ukraine, the Odesa Portside Plant.
Corporate governance is another area in which we have developed an outstanding profile in Ukraine working on many reforms and advisory projects, that mainly focus on major state-owned enterprises. We have already expanded our expertise beyond the local market, having worked as international experts on corporate governance projects in Uzbekistan.
In addition, we have extensive experience in legislation drafting in the major areas impacting business and commerce in Ukraine. Apart from this, we have had interesting and sizable projects in the M&A, banking and finance, dispute resolution, and competition areas, as well as in energy, agriculture, infrastructure, TMT, and other sectors.
CEELM: And, based on the above, what are your mid-term goals?
Olena: We certainly plan to grow: to develop our expertise and increase the number of lawyers, which should go hand in hand with the enlargement and development of our client base.
Without a doubt, we will continue to be a full-service law firm, though we will pay special attention to the development of those practices and sectors, where we are widely recognized as experts and which could drive further development of the entire office. For instance, these could be infrastructure, energy and project finance, as well as corporate governance, where we would aim to expand beyond the state sector (where we’re currently more active).
CEELM: Generally speaking, will you be making any changes in the running of the office? What would you like your influence on the office to be and how will it reflect your management style?
Olena: First of all, I do believe that there is a difference between female and male management styles. Thus, there will be inevitable changes in the running of the office. We have already started with a deeper involvement of team members in decision-making and by encouraging senior colleagues to step up and take on leadership roles at their levels.
Being fair to people and treating them with dignity, fostering a culture of collaboration, but not competitiveness, by giving enough room to develop and by supporting these developments – these are the core approaches to managing the office. We aim to support the working environment, which is beneficial not only to serve clients but also because it makes our firm a nice place to work.
Our definite goal is to take the office to a different level and to be the go-to firm for major players in all of our core practices. This requires certain internal transformations, which the office is now undergoing, including within the team, to make sure, firstly, that there are relevant expertise and capabilities, and secondly, that our mission and values are accepted and shared by everyone.
CEELM: What do you perceive/expect will be your most important support structures in taking on this new role?
Olena: There are a few, one of them being our central management, of course. We have regular calls and they really do whatever is required and are happy to provide support. Also, my fellow partners from the other Kinstellar offices are all very much supportive! After my appointment, many of them reached out and offered support in case I need any help, advice, or assistance, and I find this very valuable.
Last, but not least, I am very grateful to my team, both lawyers and business support staff - dedicated and inspired colleagues who do their everyday work to the highest standards and who are open for new challenges. One cannot think of better support, especially during this transformation stage.
CEELM: To all your existing and potential clients following the developments within the firm, what will this change bring about? What can they expect going forward?
Olena: First of all, they can expect and be sure that we will continue to strive towards the highest standards when it comes to providing legal advice and serving their needs.
Of course, we are changing, and we aim to be more than just another good law firm on the market for them. We want them to know that we are offering services on a different level – that we want to help them not just understand their legal environment but also find new opportunities for them to grow their business and progress in a sustainable way. And we will be there to support them in achieving their goals!