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Rustam Kurmaev, Managing Partner

Formerly a senior partner with Goltsblat BLP, and currently a managing partner at Rustam Kurmaev & Partners, Rustam Kurmaev explains what it takes to open a law firm during a crisis, the challenges which small law firms face and how a litigation boutique law firm differs from an international law firm.

1) What do you see as the main points that differentiate Rustam Kurmaev & Partners from your competitors?

In setting up the firm, we tried to create a product which would be unique on the market, allowing us to solve complex corporate conflicts and conflicts with the risk of criminal prosecution for our clients’ management teams. For this purpose we have finely tuned our practice groups, engaging associates with highly specialised experience in various litigation areas.

The focus on the key areas is what sets us apart from bigger law firms. An independent practice allows us to give a fair evaluation to our clients’ issues from all possible perspectives and decide on the most effective methods to resolve those. It means that a project team includes only the first class litigators with tons of relevant experience knowing every detail of the case. This approach gives us agility that many international law firms bound with internal unwritten policies and strict hierarchy cannot afford.     

2) Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?

First and foremost, we expect the white collar crime defence practice to grow even further. Despite working at full capacity, our criminal practice continues to give additional growth of 20-30% each year. Businesses have also started to view the white collar crime defence as a necessity, making regular provisions for such legal services. Here is a good example: we receive an increasing number of requests for top management training on how to behave in emergency and/or extraordinary situations. We also expect our bankruptcy litigation practice to grow. Despite the normally low percentage of funds recovered from counterparties who have gone bankrupt (usually only 2-3%), insolvency laws have seen some significant changes over the past year and our clients expect there to be a greater number of instruments available to hold dishonest beneficiaries of bankrupt businesses subsidiarily liable.

3) What's the main change you've made in the firm that will benefit clients?

Well, we set up an independent law firm in October 2017. For many years we had enjoyed stable growth being the most profitable practice with a strong client following. But at the same time we felt that our clients often cannot rely on a big legal brand when it comes to a complex litigation.

Indeed, a litigation involving many parties very often infringes on the interests of another existing overseas client (especially in the case of disputes involving banks and financial institutions). The bigger you are, the more practice areas you cover, the less flexibility you can offer. When setting up a boutique law firm specialising in litigation we followed our idea – to make clients’ interests our priority. The new format means that our clients will not wait weeks before we confirm our engagement. This is highly valued by our regular clients.

4) Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Jurisprudence is one of the areas which badly need innovations in automation and technology; however, due to the lack of initiative on the part of both lawyers and their clients, such innovations are being introduced at a very slow pace.

One of the current trends that we have observed is the increasing demand to use cyber security in communications and data transmission. Our clients not only want to be confident that we will keep their information safe, but they also want to be sure that nobody is able to intercept the information and use it with ill intent.

Our clients show cautious interest in blockchain technologies; they have also inquired about our ICO support capabilities. Though we have been tracking changes in these areas, we would like to emphasize that Russian law forbids cryptocurrencies.

5) Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

As we are a law firm focused solely on litigation, obviously, the efficiency of our help is primarily determined by lawsuits which we have won on behalf of our clients. As an example, since becoming an independent law firm, we won for our client – Mechel – one of Russia’s most notable cases of 2017, in a dispute against Rostov Electrometallurgical Plant (REMZ).

The said judicial decisions had a precedential impact across certain areas of corporate law and with regard to personal liability for corporate management.

6) Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms - where do you see the firm in three years’ time?

Our clients are looking for reliable support 24/7. We have taken a risk of an independent litigation firm to meet this expectation. And we are proud to say that this approach has been rewarding. Such industry leaders as Mechel, Chelpipe, Jones Lang Lassalle, Baker Hughes, Volkswagen Group RUS, Abbott Russia continue to trust us with their most sensitive cases. We are strongly determined to keep this competitive advantage when perusing any growth ambitions.

We might consider a possibility of teaming up with other law firms specialising, like us, primarily in dispute resolution. It would allow us to form a complete litigation offering and cover our clients’ appetite for our legal services in antitrust or tax disputes.

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