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4 November 2020

The Corner Office: your favorite client matter

Source: CEE Legal Matters Magazine

In The Corner Office we ask Managing Partners across Central and Eastern Europe about their unique roles and responsibilities. The question this time around: ”What is your single most favorite client matter in your career?”

 “As an associate at Covington in the early 2000s, I was asked to draft an agreement, from scratch, for Microsoft.  The agreement was to license from another publicly traded company a new VOIP feature.  There were no model agreements, I had no experience with software or telecoms agreements, and we a hard deadline as a new software version from Microsoft was set to be released.  After months of asking questions, drafting (cobbling together many different agreements and making up many definitions based on discussions with the client), and negotiations, a Cooperation and Development Agreement was signed at the eleventh hour. The good people at Microsoft were pleased (though maybe surprised as I had told them I was neither a software nor a telecoms lawyer), as was my supervising partner. Also, the day after signing, the president of the VOIP company personally called me to thank me for my work and, unfortunately, complain about his lawyers, who had almost busted the deal. Looking back, it was one of the my most rewarding experiences as I learned, from being thrown in the deep end, how to truly swim as a lawyer. I am grateful to the wonderful partner who put her confidence in me, the firm, which instilled such a “we can figure anything out culture” in all of its people, the client, who patiently answered any questions and put me in touch with various departments in order to explain the deal and its technical features, and the counter-party’s president, who recognized that the importance of getting a deal done should not be overshadowed by zealous lawyers and was willing to talk through and resolve all final issues personally.”

Peter Teluk, Partner, Sayenko Kharenko

“One of my favorite clients was actually my former Czech teacher. She was an elderly lady, who unfortunately died two years ago. She taught me the Czech language until approximately 20 years ago, but we managed to stay in touch and quite often she consulted me on day-to-day issues. Since I usually advise big corporations on real estate transactions, I appreciated that I could give her real practical advice. My “fee” was – in addition to an honest “thank you” (and how often do we lawyers hear this today?) – either a fresh apple strudel, or around Christmas, her famous “Vanilkove Rohlicky” (vanilla crescent cookies). Needless to say, I shared (almost) all of them with my partners.”

Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Prague

“It is one of the biggest commercial projects ever done in Montenegro: The Atlas Capital Center Podgorica (known now as “The Capital Plaza.” Specifically, this is a business mall in Podgorica that was invested in by the Abu Dhabi Fund from the Emirates. The main project manager, Mr. Mike Tarhini, and I were working on the project, and it was finished with a delay of slightly more than a year. The worth of the investment was about EUR 220 million. The project was completed and now it is the best business center in Podgorica (and Montenegro), and it represents one of the landmarks of the city.

At the same time, it is featured on our official website. To us it represents a reference project which is recognized in all legal directories.”

Sasa Vujacic, Managing Partner, Vujacic Law Offices

“The project to which I look back with most fondness is the Cerna Wind Farm, a small project on which I worked on at the very beginning of my career as a solo practitioner. It was the dawn of Romania’s renewable era when the country seemed the El Dorado of wind energy and everyone in the business was enthusiastic and looking at the future with confidence. Given its novelty, the project faced many challenges, mostly falling under the “never done before” category – be it real estate and construction or permitting and regulatory-related matters. It presented me with the double challenge of being required to both provide and implement the advice. I was simultaneously scared, thrilled, and determined to succeed, with each issue or step forward seeming a matter of life or death. In the end, my contribution to the project was a success and other projects followed suit. The Cerna Wind Farm taught me the importance of being offered the chance to prove yourself and of resilience in one’s work and efforts.”

Oana-Alexandra Ijdelea, Partner, Ijdelea Mihailescu

“In the mid-00’s a friend accepted the CFO role at a prominent Silicon Valley parent’s recently acquired subsidiary, a classic “started in a garage” Chicago company then as well-known as Apple. The parent had decided to sell it. I thought he was a bit nuts for doing so but gladly accepted his subsequent summons to pitch my legal services to his team, a group of 30-somethings in blue jeans and T-shirts who were a bit skeptical about me and my navy-blue suit. They gave me the thumbs-up, though, and I immediately began my baptism in tech, along with its 24-7 demands, long before tech was cool.  Shortly thereafter, I got a call from my new client’s board telling me they had decided to fire the CEO and thought I was the perfect person to deliver the news. We were about to disconnect when I asked them who they were going to name as the CEO’s replacement. They had not thought about that. I told them the CFO would be a logical choice, at least on an interim basis. They took my counsel and eventually made him the permanent CEO. The new CEO and I then spent a lot of time trying to advance the original objective of selling the company but we just could not get it done, even as a management buy-out. The CEO became so discouraged that he even thought about not attending a meeting with the parent company where the situation was on the agenda. As the publically traded parent was under pressure because of its disposition announcement, my gut told me that, if I could only get the CEO to go, the parent might just give him the company to get the matter over with. It was his turn to think I was nuts and just would not budge. Nonetheless, on the morning of the meeting I decided to give it one more shot and called him. He ended up participating and, yes, they gave him the company, in a deal that had to be papered instantly – essentially a quitclaim deed to an SPV that was just barely formed. About a year or so later, helped by an improved market, in the “party room” of an L.A. venture capital firm that had emerged out of nowhere, we struck a sale worth many millions of dollars.

So why is all of this special to me? I am indeed proud that I had the where with all to deliver what was needed, when it was needed. However, what still makes me smile is that my friend shared those millions with the management team that had been on the roller coaster ride with him from the very beginning, even though he had absolutely no legal obligation to do so. He simply did the right thing. I wish I could say that I have seen more of that sort of thing over the course of my career.  Still, this story shows it does happen, so keep on believing!”

Ron Given, CE Senior Legal Counsel, Deloitte Legal

“They say there is a time and place for everything. Yet, life does not always play along, and it certainly did not on the night I got “the call” regarding my first ICC Arbitration. It was late night back in 2011 when I got a call from the owner of a local pharma company, asking me to take on a matter that was apparently doomed already, and which threatened bankruptcy and termination of employment for over 200 employees. It was not the right place and certainly not the right time, but I heard myself saying: “Send me the file in the morning.” The file was a “collection” of wrong steps taken by several counsels in a desperate attempt to defend against a big player from a foreign market and its high-profile legal team including a certain Professor of Arbitration Law at a prestigious university. Regardless of all the odds against, including a number of procedural errors as well as those on the merits of the matter that had already been made, after two years of “struggle” we managed to prove bad faith in negotiating the arbitration clause, and even more, that the wording of the clause was not a valid basis to claim ICC jurisdiction or application of its rules. The Sole Arbitrator rejected its jurisdiction and awarded us all our expenses. The matter was a genuine David-and-Goliath experience in the world of arbitration. It had all the challenges that I, as a young lawyer, aspired to, including a tough legal battle with significant social impact. ”

Emina Saracevic, Managing Partner, Saracevic Gazibegovic Lawyers

“Throughout the years there have been many successful client matters, but the one that stands out for me was the successful out-of-court settlement of the grid access fees with the Bulgarian Transmission System operator. It is my favorite matter, because it completed the definition of a “win-win” settlement for all parties involved, which was reached by means of mutual compromises and understanding. On September 14, 2012, the Bulgarian utility regulator imposed 39 per cent retroactive grid access fees on most of the renewable energy producers in Bulgaria, which we challenged and managed to overturn. Following this win, CMS, as a representative of the largest renewable energy producers on the market, faced the next challenge – to recover those funds which the state-owned Bulgarian Electricity Transmission System Operator (ESO EAD) had collected. CMS managed to convince the international investors in the sector to rely on an out-of-court settlement and started negotiations, which took us 18 months to complete, including several decisions of the Board of ESO EAD, the Minister of Energy, and the Bulgarian utility regulator. The first settlement agreement was signed in the presence of the Minister of Energy by the CEO of ESO EAD and the largest photovoltaic investor on the market. Following the signing the CEO of ESO EAD openly said in front of everyone in the Great Hall of the Ministry of Energy, where the ceremony was taking place: “I can’t understand you Mr. Sirleshtov; CMS could have made so much on fees from those litigations.” This was a very personal note to me. He was right. We could have made our huge fees, but the parties to the disputes would have incurred sufficient losses and the image of Bulgaria as an investment destination would have been damaged further. This matter showed that we not only talk the talk, but we walk the walk when we say “Your World First.”

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