A Window of Opportunity

Research 2020

Having a presence on the market for over 18 years, Ukrainian Law Firms. A Handbook for Foreign Clients is the most in-depth analytical publication encompassing developments in Ukrainian law, its business implications, transaction activity and disputes.

The publication traditionally presents the landscape of the Ukrainian legal market by practice areas and industries — the most friendly and useful way for clients.

The analytical surveys are produced on the basis of thorough research using submissions from law firms, available public sources, individual feedbacks often called peers’ reviews, in-depth personal telephone interviews, and other market insights collected by the team on a non-stop basis for many years. For the second year in a row the in-house counsel is another source of valuable insight.

Those firms, which have not provided their submissions but were highly referred during the polls, were mentioned in respective surveys but were not ranked due to the absence of available public information to prove their active track record during the period under research.

Each year before the launch of the submission period we approach market insiders for their comments and suggestions, new trends and ideas to watch for our future editions. We are grateful to those legal practitioners who shared their experience and ideas for the purposes of our research.

In the present overview the Capital Markets section is observed, which is a sign of positive market conditions for the state and corporate issuers in 2019. Another new area that we kept an eye on the second year in a row (and finally produced our findings) is Family Law (as part of the Private Clients practice).

The market landscape is presented in the form of corporate and individual shortlists. In those practices/industries where it was evident, the shortlists are composed of 3, 5 and 10 firms. In certain areas where the landscape is not sharply seen, we provided our selection in alphabetical order with supportive descriptions of the performance of market players in the editorial texts.

Our contacts with international law firms involved in Ukrainian matters have continued to expand. We currently observe their roles in capital markets, banking and finance, international arbitration, cross-border litigation and international trade.

Notably, we extended our digital presence. In response to the pandemic this spring when we launched a special COVID-19 Guidance on our site for hands on comments and clear understanding on the unprecedented measures and their impact.

This, the eighteenth edition of the Handbook, includes 21 surveys and 32 rankings. The criteria of inclusion are based on a reasonable combination of project portfolio during the research ­period — 2019, complexity and significance of matters, client profile, practice versatility, a team’s expertise, its capacity and reputation.

The “Other established practices” category assumes firms with sustainable practice development during the research period, a solid project portfolio, an accomplished team of legal practitioners, and established expertise recognized by the market and proved by existing workflow.

So-called “authorities” — a category attributed for individual achievements, referred to undisputable market professionals named as people establishing standards, less involved in each project at present, but playing a key role in client relationships, reputation and the present staying of their firms or practices.

On a traditional basis, we continue to collect and systematize publishable deals (please, see Tables 1-5). This is perhaps the most laconic but informative piece of our research.



Mergers, Splits and New Brands

In May 2019, GRACERS white-collar crime defense firm was established. The team consists of criminal defense attorneys headed by Serhii Lysenko.

In July 2019 Sayenko Kharenko and Solodko & Partners completed the process of merging their white-collar crime practices, which encompassed white-collar criminal defense, anti-corruption compliance, and corporate investigations.

In October 2019 the Swiss legal group SIGTAX and its managing partner Paul Gheorghiu, along with Ukrainian partners Ruslan Redka, Lana Golian and Natalia Radchenko, opened a multi-family office in Ukraine under the brand name of Legal House. The firm provides support in financial, tax and legal matters, structuring and protecting the private and corporate assets of wealthy families. In December of the same year Ovcharov & Partners, criminal defense attorneys at law, became a part of Legal House.

The same month, Ilyashev & Partners unveiled its office in Odesa. The new office is focused on sea carriage (shipping), international trade and cargo handling in ports, and is headed by Sergey Nedelko, an Odesa-based expert previously employed in ANK Law Office.

At the beginning of December 2019 partners of S.T. Partners, Svitlana Trofimchuk and Sergiy Tyurin, terminated their cooperation. Both continued to develop their legal practices separately from each other.

In March 2020 Dmytro Vidsota, who was a counsel at Asters, established Robinson Patman. The new law firm specializes in international trade, antitrust and competition, GR.

In April 2020 LCF Law Group announced the expansion of its business by adding lawyers’ teams from EVRIS Law Firm and Sheverdin and Partners. The executive team remained unchanged — Anna Ogrenchuk, managing partner, and Artem Stoyanov, senior partner. Other partners of the amalgamated firm are: Olena Volianska — bankruptcy and restructuring; Yulia Atamanova — international arbitration, commercial and corporate disputes; Ihor Kravtsov — cross-border litigation; Sergiy Benedysiuk — corporate, M&A and antitrust; Andriy Reun — tax; Alexander Molotai — intellectual property; Maksym Sheverdin — criminal law and cross-border investigations.

In May 2020 AGA Partners and AVELLUM announced that the two firms continue their cooperation as an alliance. A reminder that these two firms merged in July 2018. AGA Partners team resumes operations under its brand. The alliance format assumes close cooperation on joint projects.

In June 2020 BRANDSFIELD Brand Care Law Firm announced the launch of its operations. The new firm is co-founded by former counsel of the IP practice at Sayenko Kharenko, namely Oleg Klymchuk and Denis Krokhmalyov.

The same month Maksym Uslystyi, former partner of Eterna Law, established ACQUIS Law Firm. The new brand is a full-service firm with the focus on energy and natural resources.


Moves and Promotions

In June 2019 CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang announced the arrival of Ihor Olekhov as a partner of its banking and finance practice. He was previously a partner in the Kyiv office of Baker McKenzie. In August the Kyiv office also promoted Kateryna Chechulina (finance practice) and Olga Shenk (dispute resolution and compliance) to counsel.

In July Ilyashev & Partners appointed its lawyers and attorneys at law, in particular, Andrey Bychkov, Leonid Gilevich, Valeriia Gudiy, Vadym Kizlenko, Andriy Konoplya, Oleg Trokhimchuk and Dmitry Konstantinov as counsel.

The head of the Ukrainian office of SBH Law Offices, a Belarus legal brand, changed from Zoya Krasyuk to Ksenia Prokonova.

In September 2019 Denys Kytsenko (previously — Dynasty Law Firm) joined Eterna Law as a partner of the bankruptcy and restructuring practice.

The same month Ivan Bondarchuk from ILF Law Firm joined EVRIS as head of the energy law practice.

AEQUO announced the promotion of Nataliya Dryuk to counsel of its intellectual property practice.

Oleksandr Padalka (previously — Sayenko Kharenko) joined Ilyashev & Partners as a counsel.

On 19 September Vasil Kisil & Partners announced the accession of the team of lawyers from Nazar Kulchytskyy & Partners. Nazar Kulchytskyy leads the practice of criminal law, representation at the European Court of Human Rights and protection of personal data.

Late September the Salkom Law Firm announced the election of Eduard Tregubov as its new managing partner.

In October Olena Sukmanova joined Sayenko Kharenko as a partner to head the firm’s litigation practice. Prior to joining she was the First Deputy Minister of Justice.

In November Eterna Law announced the appointment of Oleh Beketov, partner, head of international litigation, as the firm’s senior partner. Shaukat Valitov joined the firm as a partner, responsible for the Uzbekistan market.

Starting from November 2019 Vadim ­Medvedev, partner at AVELLUM, has been the head of its dispute resolution practice.

Asters announced the appointment of Talina Kravtsova, focused on family law litigation, as partner effective from 1 January 2020. Additionally, the firm announced the promotion of Olga Lepikhina (family and inheritance law), Kateryna Oliynyk (banking and finance, capital markets), Anton Sintsov (commercial and civil law, bankruptcy and debt collection), and Oleksandr Volkov (international arbitration and cross-border litigation) to counsel.

INTEGRITES announced the appointment of Serhiy Shershun, head of antitrust and competition, as partner effective from 1 January 2020.

Eterna Law announced the promotions of Artem Kuzmenko as a partner in corporate and M&A; Igor Mulyarchuk as a counsel in international litigation; Karina Pavlyuk as a counsel of the firm’s international taxation and corporate structuring practice.

Sayenko Kharenko boosted its antitrust and competition and banking and finance practices with the promotion of two counsel to partner status — Valentyna Hvozd and Igor Lozenko, respectively.


On 20 January Markian Malskyy returned to Arzinger as partner and headed the firm’s Western Ukrainian office. He was the head of Lviv Regional State Administration from July 2019.

Anastasia Usova, who leads the antitrust practice at Redcliffe Partners, was promoted to partner.

Sergey Denisenko became the partner of AEQUO’s antitrust and competition law practice.

In February INTEGRITES appointed Yevgen Ivanets as counsel on economic investigations to the international trade practice.

LCF Law Group promoted Yulia Atamanova to a partner in March 2020.

Olesia Kryvetska joined Asters international trade practice as counsel and Oleksandr Frolov joined the dispute resolution team as counsel.

In May CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang announced the promotion of Natalia Kushniruk as a partner in the firm’s real estate team.

Iryna Nikolayevska was promoted to partner of the corporate/M&A and compliance, risk and sensitive investigations practices in Kinstellar’s Kyiv office. Daniel Bilak has joined as a senior counsel to the firm’s regional management team. He was previously a chief investment adviser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine, and managing partner of the Ukraine office of the global law firm CMS Cameron McKenna.

At the end of May 2020 Maryna Tomash (previously — private practice and ADER HABER) joined Juscutum Law Firm as a partner and the head of tax.



Welcome to the New Reality

With the new political team in power international interest in Ukraine has increased significantly. Global political and economic forums were targeted with a set of messages that the government was ready to provide investors with comfortable conditions and a flexible individual approach. The new Parliament began to function in so-called “turbo mode”.

2019 was favorable for lending on international capital markets and banking finance. At the same time, with the favorable market conditions for corporate issuances, the cross-border debt restructuring lagged behind.

This past year the IT and technologies sector has shown remarkable growth. It concerned not only outsourcing services, which are traditional for Ukraine, but a growing product segment. There was facilitation of M&A deals in IT and the e-market. Furthermore, the offline retail market tended to scale online.

The new law on concession, particularly in the construction of roads and infrastructure, also attracted interest to this sector. A widely-discussed “battle for agricultural land” resulted in legislative adoption of a law introducing its sale.

The white-collar crime practice continued its upcoming track, facilitated by the establishment of regulating bodies — the Anti-corruption Bureau, Anti-corruption Court, and the new wave of political cases resulted in the initiation of criminal proceedings, but no final verdicts.

The notable trend in 2019 was development of GR and lobbying practice, facilitated by the parliamentary elections in July.

The sudden pandemic forced the whole world to think how to handle the outbreak and preserve business.

The good news is that Ukraine enforced its lockdown at the early stage of the outbreak of COVID-19, avoiding mass scale virus exposure and the collapse of its healthcare system. The bad news is that it is having a dramatic impact on its economy, like other countries without financial resilience. However, economists predict a quicker recovery than after the crisis of 2008-2009. And this recovery should fuel the legal market with work.

During this massive business disruption, labor and employment advice was one of the fastest-growing legal offering of the past spring. Business required proper documentation of temporary unpaid leave, introduction of shorter working hours, redundancies. As the measures taken were truly unprecedented, employment disputes seem unavoidable.

The development projects and transactions that were put on hold are gradually being brought back to the negotiating table. The parties obviously have to renegotiate the terms of deals or reconsider them strategically. The volume of transactions is, as a consequence, expected to fall.

The rest of 2020 and beyond will trigger debt restructuring, and hopefully both creditors and borrowers are interested in reaching new, reasonable commitments.

Those players focused on distressed assets and non-performing loans began to deal with opportunities that the resulting crisis has created. Some of them already look precisely for attractive objects for acquisition as the financial terms of such transactions have become more attractive.

As the resolution of many disputes was paralyzed within the COVID-19 outbreak, the postponed demand should be realized in full in the second half of 2020. It is predicted that there will be a wave of disputes involving investment and financing cases, as well as bankruptcies and default situations.

The current crisis will be a source of contractual disputes and see a rise in the caseload of arbitral institutions all over the world. In Ukraine the most widely-discussed issue is investment treaty claims, particularly in the field of energy disputes. The situation naturally caused disruptions of supply chains, and may trigger disputes arising out of commodities originating from Ukraine.

The fiscal function of the tax authorities is likely to be back. Both business and lawyers predict a myriad of tax disputes, especially controversies related to transfer pricing. On a similar note, Ukraine followed the global anti-offshorization trend. The recent changes in tax legislation will certainly bring lots of work to tax advisors.

Another noteworthy consideration from the fields is the desire of business to take on state authorities for their inconsistent policies by appealing their regulations in courts.


TOP-10 Market Trends

One notable advantage of running this research across multiple years is the determination of development cycles and dynamics. Below we present industry trends which we identified before and after the spring of 2020. It expectedly looks like some of them are lockdown driven and would otherwise be invisible to law firms.

  1. Splits and new forms of cooperation

Over the last couple of years, the appetites of national law firms have spurred on mergers between local players. Throughout 2019-2020 a few mergers took place (please see the timeline box below), and several anticipated mergers remained under negotiation and didn’t convert into amalgamations.

Before the pandemic struck we expected the merger trend to continue. But the new changed reality turned the trend onto the opposite direction, where flexibility is the main response to crisis.

Furthermore, a number of recent splits and establishment of new law firms is also a traditional development in times of crisis. Similarly to 2009, entrepreneurial skills are fostered by a turbulent and uncertain reality. All in all, changing the complexion of the legal marketplace is on its way.

  1. Filling the gaps and rightsizing

Many law firms responded to the lockdown in March with immediate staff reduction compensations (often noted as temporary) and even termination of employees — both lawyers and administrative personnel.

Conversely, some Ukrainian law firms and internationals attempted to be two steps ahead and prepare for tightening competition. They used the lockdown period for strengthening their teams — attracting rainmakers, filling in gaps in expertise, attracting talents from the market.

Those firms, which reacted to the crisis with immediate dismissal of legal staff to secure their cash flow and maintain existing reserves to cover operating costs, have already felt decreased capacity when the workflow began to come back to the previous intensity.

The unique feature of this crisis was that firms had to accept changes that are hard to manage. Rightsizing is one of them.

  1. New generation of in-house lawyers

Over the last couple of years client expectations have changed — strict demand in quality, pricing, assignment time frames. Curiously enough, not only does the economic background stay behind, but so does an evolving portrait of a modern in-house counsel.

The community of in-house lawyers was fueled by legal practitioners from law firms who spent at least a couple of years in external advisory. It impacts heavily on their strategic decision-making and determined a more sophisticated choice of external counsel. The new generation of in-house practitioners understands the mindset of law firms, making them change approaches to sales and delivery of legal services.

  1. Flexible pricing

During quarantine and beyond, clients expected loyalty, discounts, installment plans, extensions, quite often all together. It means that a fresh approach to pricing was the most reasonable response for preserving the selling point and gaining distinction.

The dumping trend existed long ago before the lockdown, but it received even more widespread use by firms with a financial safety bag, which had appetites for a slice of new clients. The situation forced an additional push to revise fees.

  1. Strategic importance of technology

The firms estimated the significant role of client-based technologies and document management systems in the period of lockdown. Those who have introduced client collaboration tools felt much confident in keeping close communication with clients. In times when clients are more self-serving these tools ensure a better client experience.

Another serious concern was the robustness of prepared cyber security systems to demonstrate protection of client confidential information. It was a real test of this strategic investment made by many firms in recent years.

  1. Remote work

The pandemic changed the way in which legal work is done. Before the recent spring some law firms encouraged remote work arrangements to achieve a better work-life balance, and hence, increased efficiency. But it could be hardly called an overall trend. As a result, for many traditional market players working from home was a big challenge in terms of technologies, management and discipline. The situation revealed that remote arrangements can work and forced their leaders to reconsider the needs of technology in the light of new realities.

Similarly, many online meeting tools, for example, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet, became an essential part of everyday business life. The main requirements are safety, ability to screenshare, security settings, allowing multiple players to join. They are further used in a normal reality to save time and speed up operational decision-making.

  1. Crucial role of online presence

Even those firms that entered the crisis financially strong were urged to put their development and marketing plans on hold. When all off-line activities were terminated, the firm felt the pivotal role of its presence online. Digital marketing took in the budgets of traditional PR and marketing tools.

Firms held webinars almost every day during the lockdown period. Sometimes clients even asked them to slow down as social networks were oversaturated with various screens and invitations.

Similarly, it has a crucial impact on the industry of professional events and education. Those providers who offered online learning opportunities and were technically ready to operate fully remotely, won a new audience and pushed their business to a new level.

  1. Video marketing

With the lack of time the consumption of information gradually changed from lengthy texts to short takeaways, infographics, images and, finally, video. Visual marketing is tasked to be efficient, brief, understandable for a wider audience, and providing a call to action. Brief videos turned on the emotional side of expert positioning, as the perception of an individual always determines the purchasing choice.

The shift towards video content didn’t happen immediately, but gained momentum in 2019-2020.

  1. Business-driven leadership

It is a multi-year trend in many progressive firms to map their client roster and execute consistent monitoring of their needs. Approaching the client by industry, understanding its strengths and gaps, has proved to be a truly sustainable strategy to generate work and stand out from the crowd.

The quarantine gave the market a pause for thought — as to which industries and clients could be a source of work, and to elaborate a subsequent response with a set of legal products relevant to the situation. A product-wise model in sales appeared to be much more workable in times of uncertainty.

  1. Emergency planning

Unfortunately, the path to be taken by the pandemic cannot be predicted. This situation should likely be repeated in autumn and winter. So the leaders of law firms have already asked themselves questions; what changes should be made in their structures and business processes in order to be better prepared? How to work remotely for an extended period of time and to stay competitive in acquiring new clients? How to preserve quality and offer innovative pricing? How to reduce stress and improve working efficiency? And finally, in order to stay sustainable it is necessary (not desirable as before) to have an “emergency plan”.