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CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

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Regional Summaries

The Legal 500 Europe

This chapter features law firms ranked according to cross-border capability, legal expertise and track record in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The borders drawn for the purpose of this coverage are from the north: Ukraine, Belarus, Poland; to the west: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia down as far as Albania, while joining up from south to east are Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. Turkey, Russia and Greece are excluded from this coverage, as are the Baltic states, because these legal markets are considered to have different dynamics and law firms.

Positive developments across the region include Croatia's return to economic growth after years of stagnation, thanks to a combination of strong domestic demand and a vibrant tourist industry. There is also considerable optimism in the Polish market, due to a falling unemployment rate, a significant volume of M&A and disputes, and the subsequent growth strategy of some of the largest firms in the market. There are also discussions pertaining to a potential reform of the civil court system in Poland with plans mooted to eliminate the country's District Court, with the Regional Court taking on additional duties. The Czech Republic's business environment is extremely positive, aided by the strength of two of its key trading markets: Germany and Austria.

Romania is the region's standout economy, though, with the largest EU economic growth reported in the second quarter of 2016, which is due to a major rise in domestic consumption, coupled with tax cuts and wage increases. In Hungary, energy lawyers and clients alike welcomed the introduction of the government's licensing scheme for solar and wind projects. In line with the wider trend in the CEE region, Slovakia had a noticeable uptick in real estate M&A, with several pan-European acquisitions involving assets in the country. Slovenian corporate M&A activity increased thanks to renewed interest from foreign investors, while financial transactions, particularly concerning non-performing loans (NPLs), produced a steady workflow. Ukraine is undergoing major social and political reforms, highlighted by significant judiciary changes, with the government having dismissed 500 judges in the second half of 2016. Some major privatisations initially planned for 2016 have now been delayed until 2017 instead. The “Silicon Valley” of Southeastern Europe (SEE), Bulgaria, has witnessed rapid growth in its IT sector, thereby creating greater demand for TMT lawyers.

Lateral moves and partner appointments of note in the market include regional CEE firm Schoenherr's announcement of a new Austria-based managing partner, Michael Lagler, effective from February 2017. Headline movements in Hungary include the departure of corporate and competition specialists Ádám Máttyus and Eszter Ritter from Andrékó Kinstellar to Lakatos, Köves and Partners, and Andrékó Kinstellar's hire of competition lawyer Péter Vörös and new head of corporate and M&A Anthony O'Connor from Baker McKenzie LLP and Réczicza Dentons Europe LLP, respectively. Key moves in Poland saw Bird & Bird Szepietowski i wspólnicy sp. k.'s Warsaw office founder Maciej Gawronski depart for Maruta Wachta sp. j., with Slawomir Szepietowski now managing partner. CMS appointed Malgorzata Surdek as managing partner and Radzikowski, Szubielska i Wspólnicy sp.k. is no longer affiliated with New York headquartered Chadbourne & Parke LLP. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dimitrijevic & Partners spun off from Local lawyers in cooperation with Karanovic & Nikolic and new domestic firm B&B Legal entered the market. In Serbia, Karanovic & Nikolic's former dispute resolution team now operates as boutique firm Mihaj, Ilic & Milanovic Law Firm.

Allen & Overy LLP's lawyers are 'highly professional, creative and innovative, delivering high-quality services tailored to clients' needs'. CEE managing partner and banking and finance specialist Arkadiusz Pędzich advised Bank of America Merrill Lynch on financing the acquisition of a €56m portfolio of real estate across Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. CEE-wide dispute resolution head Martin Magál, in Bratislava, is representing Horphag Research Management in cases pertaining to trade mark infringement and unfair competition. Other key lawyers include Warsaw-based Tomasz Kawczyński and Jaroslaw Iwanicki, and Bucharest-based Mihai Ristici.

CMS has an exceptional coverage of the region, with offices in 13 countries, and has established itself as one of the go-to firms for blockbuster corporate transactions, as evidenced by CEE corporate head Helen Rodwell's advice to Nordic Partners regarding the €175m sale of Hamé to Oslo-listed food group Orkla. The firm has extensive resources and a sizable team from across the network assisted CVC Capital Partners with the €477m acquisition of Polish energy company PKP Energetyka; Warsaw-based Dariusz Greszta led on the acquisition aspects and Anela Musat in London handled post-completion matters.

Clifford Chance LLP's commitment to the CEE region is illustrated by its sizeable presence in Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland. The key CEE managing partners are Prague-based Alex Cook, Warsaw-based Grzegorz Namiotkiewicz and Bucharest-based Daniel Badea. Recent highlights include advising Empik Media & Fashion Group on a preliminary share purchase agreement with special purpose vehicle Coortland Investments concerning shares in the Smyk Group companies. The Ukraine branch became an independent office, with Redcliffe Partners established in December 2015, but the two firms have entered into a 'best-friend' referral arrangement.

Dentons' team provides an 'outstanding' level of service. For some, Rob Irving, Edward Keller and the private equity team are 'some of the very best' practitioners in the market. Keller is 'an all-round top-notch lawyer; he thinks strategically and seeks excellence in what he does'. Highlights included handling CEFC Hainan International's potential acquisition of a unit of Kazakhstan's state oil and gas company; advising the Polish Transmission System Operator on the construction of a €250m cross-border power grid interconnection with Lithuania; and assisting Raiffeisen, as the lead arranger, with a project financing for the development of power plants in Poland and the Czech Republic. Jakub Celiński joined the Warsaw capital markets team from Baker McKenzie LLP.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP's Moscow-based CEE co-head Sebastian Lawson advises on high-profile M&A deals, while fellow co-head Willibald Plesser, in Vienna, handles high-value cross-border projects and energy transactions for Austrian and international clients. Headline matters included advising Zero Bypass on the $1.1bn PPP project concerning the construction of the Bratislava ring road, acting for Anheuser-Busch InBev in its £79bn merger with SABMiller, and assisting Mid Europa Partners with the sale of Baltic mobile operator Biteì Finance International to Providence Equity Partners.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges' global network comprises three key CEE locations: Budapest, Warsaw and Prague. The client list includes Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric, Iron Mountain and UGI Corporation, and leading private equity firms, including Lone Star, Bridgepoint and Ardian. Work highlights saw the firm advise TV2 Media on the sale of the TV2 Group to Magyar Broadcasting and assist Unipetrol with the bidding process for the acquisition of ENI Hungária from ENI Italy. The Prague team handled the first IPO of a Czech bank, Moneta Money, for GE Capital. Key partners include banking, finance and capital markets head Konrád Siegler in Budapest and corporate partner Pawel Zdort in Warsaw.

Providing 'a high-quality service with superb response times', White & Case LLP acts for clients from the financial services, oil and gas, telecoms, infrastructure and retail sectors. Key partners include Bratislava-based Marek Staroň, Warsaw-based Marcin Studniarek and Prague-based David Plch. Studniarek, together with the London office, assisted a consortium of banks, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Santander and Société Générale, with PZU's €350m issuance of registered bonds. In other work highlights, the team advised UniCredit's Slovakia and Czech Republic branches on negotiations with the Laos government concerning two export credit facility agreements, worth circa €45m and €51m respectively.

Baker McKenzie LLP's CEE practice includes heavyweight corporate and M&A, projects and energy, and banking and finance teams in Prague, Budapest, Kiev and Warsaw. Co-managing partner of the Kiev office Serhiy Chorny, together with London-based Ian Jack, led advice to Metinvest on several debt restructurings spanning Kiev, London, Amsterdam, Geneva and Washington. The Warsaw M&A practice advised Theo Müller Group on the PLN77m acquisition of Nordfish-Foodmark and also handled the Polish spin-off of Johnson Controls' automotive business; the matters were led by Tomasz Krzyzowski and Marcin Gmaj, respectively. Jakub Celiński departed the Warsaw office for Dentons.

Kinstellar s.r.o advokátní kancelár's team stands out for its 'outstanding industry knowledge', and its 'lawyers are very efficient, punctual and pleasant to work with'. It has a longstanding presence in the region and frequently works alongside Magic Circle firms. Bratislava-based M&A specialist Patrik Bolf advised Portuguese construction company Mota-Engil on the €15m sale of a Slovak joint stock company to Yit. In Serbia, Selma Mujezinović represented Standard Bank during the bankruptcy proceedings of RTB Bor, the largest mining company in Serbia.

Austria-headquartered firm Schoenherr is largely focused on corporate and M&A, an area in which Alexander Popp is recommended. The team has notable strength in the telecoms sector, where work highlights included advising Apollo on its €1bn bid for a 58% stake in Telekom Srbija, and handling EQT's sale of Bulgarian telecoms operator Blizoo Media and Broadband to Telekom Austria. Other key mandates included advising on the reprivatisation of Hypo Alpe-Adria International, a matter led by Vienna-based corporate partner Sascha Hödl.

Providing 'an excellent quality of service', Wolf Theiss has notable expertise spanning projects and energy, corporate and M&A, and banking and finance, and is well positioned to service its high-profile client base with 12 offices across the region. The firm's strong cross-border capabilities were evident in its advice to Russian oil giant Lukoil and Italian energy giant ERG regarding separating their Austrian 50-50 joint venture Lukerg Renew. The team also assisted Highgate Hotels and Goldman Sachs with the acquisition of a hotel portfolio from Austrian K+K Hotel Group. Names to note include Bucharest-based Bryan Jardine and Zoltán Faludi in Budapest. Vienna-based debt capital markets specialist Alexander Haas is 'innovative, with excellent knowledge of business and industry environments'.

DLA Piper has a presence in five CEE cities, and its Budapest office, in particular, is well known for expertise in corporate and M&A, capital markets and banking and finance. Recent highlights include advising the arrangers of a Eurobond issuance on a cross-border mandate involving various European and North American countries, and assisting a private equity firm with the syndicated financing aspects of a property portfolio acquisition across Europe. Budapest managing partner András Posztl, Bratislava managing partner Michaela Stessl and Bucharest managing partner Marian Dinu are the standout names.

Linklaters' team advised Pimco Europe on a newly formed joint venture with Oaktree Capital Management, which involved a corporate structure covering three jurisdictions. Other highlights include advising Sweden-listed global group Trelleborg on its purchase of Czech Republic-based ČGS for SEK10.9bn, a matter led by Elisabet Lundgren in Stockholm. CEE team head Tomasz Zorawski, based in Warsaw, is a private equity expert, who focuses on downstream investments across the region.

Noerr's team impresses with its 'very good time management' and ability to 'work extremely well under time pressure'. The firm assisted ANV, as the underwriter, with a share purchase in a Dutch holding company, which mainly operates through its Polish and Romanian subsidiaries. The team has niche expertise advising Korean clients investing in Europe and has established a CEE-based Korean desk, while Bucharest-based CEE managing partner Jörg Menzer is recognised for handling large retail chains' market entry in countries across the region. Jakub Lerner joined the Warsaw office from CMS and jointly heads the corporate and M&A team with Arkadiusz Rumiński. Head of the Prague office Barbara Kusak is an M&A specialist.

Hunton & Williams has a core focus on energy and infrastructure projects in the CEE region. UK-based Ryan Ketchum and US-based John Beardsworth are the key names. In one highlight, the team advised the Republic of Srpska on a €3.5bn motorway network project, which included assisting with financing, design, construction and maintenance aspects. The team also acted for the Kosovan government during the privatisation of Post and Telecom of Kosovo, and assisted Croatia's national electricity company, HEP, with an international tender for an €800m, 500MW coal-fired power plant in Istria, Croatia.

Jeantet's team handled a dispute for a French luxury brand in Croatia concerning a commercial partnership with a local company and advised a Polish mining group on a partnership with a Serbian telecoms company. The team also assisted a New York-headquartered bank with the European aspects of a regulatory report pertaining to 12 Southeastern European countries. Accor, BNP Paribas, Servier and Würth are also clients. The Budapest, Kiev and Moscow offices are managed by François d'Ornano, Karl Hepp de Sevelinges and David Lasfargue, respectively.

Serbia-headquartered Karanovic & Nikolic 'provides superb service and high-quality work'. The firm has seven offices across SEE and is well-positioned to advise international clients on entering former Yugoslav Republic markets. The Serbian corporate and M&A practice handled Mid Europa Partners' €575m acquisition of Danube Foods; Rastko Petaković led the advice. The Serbian office also advised on one of the largest transactions in the country to date: the acquisition of ten new Airbus A320s for Air Serbia, valued at $100m each. Dragan Karanović, Dejan Nikolić and Miloš Vučković are other names to note.

Mayer Brown International LLP's CEE practice is led from its London and Washington DC offices. The London finance team advised the ISDA on Ukraine-related sanctions pertaining to the derivatives market; Chris Arnold led the advice. Ian Coles assisted UniCredit's Austrian and Bulgarian branches, as the lead arrangers, with the $275m corporate revolving credit facility provided to Dundee Group, and Robert Flanigan advised Slovenian insurance firm Adriatic Slovenica on Solvency II compliance regarding the issuance of €50m floating rate subordinated notes. Washington DC-based special counsel Mark Gitenstein is another key name.