fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Stevan Dimitrijević

Interview with… Stevan Dimitrijević

A number of firms with international alliances have set up operations in Bosnia, what has this meant for smaller domestic practices? and how is your firm attracting foreign investors?

International law firms brought new practice and know-how to local market, which benefited both the clients but also local law firms in raising their knowledge base and profiles. In further development of the local legal market, more and more well profiled local law firms emerged, matching the standards set by mentioned international alliances. Some even surpassed that and proved that a strong knowledge and real daily presence on the ground mixed with high standards of professionalism is the winning combination of skills for demanding clients.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has its own specifics, being a former socialist country as well as post-conflict society, and there was a significant gap between expectations of foreign investors and local legal profession. Foreign investors were accustomed to developed corporate and commercial law firms with in-depth understanding of the industries and market practices in developed countries. On the other hand, legal profession in the country was focused on individual clients and legging behind in understanding all complex features of a market economy. International law firms in cooperation with local lawyers helped to overcome this gap and introduce new practices.

But after more than two decades, local legal profession also very much progressed and international firms with its uniform and sometimes ready made approach to every client, with less developed local team on the ground then in their headquarters abroad, could not successfully respond to the needs of clients that are looking for tailored made approach and well established practice in the real regulatory environment. This is somewhat originating from the complex structure of the country that has a number of different governmental levels and sub-jurisdictions with their own competences related to the business operations.

Smaller domestic practices still have their role in local market as they are more flexible and able to be a strong guidance to the clients through complicated regulatory regimes.

This also explains how we attract foreign clients. Firstly, by understanding their needs and expectations and then by providing them with accurate and comprehensive legal advice, all delivered at the highest standards of performance.

 In an already small market, how has COVID-19 affected activity and businesses? And if so, which area has been hit the hardest? [e.g.: cross-border work, foreign investment, etc.

It was a feeling like everthing stopped for a moment, locally and globally. Nobody knew in which direction world will turn. Meetings were cancelled, negotiations frozen, no new investments and consequently no new mandates expected in foreseeable future…

Luckily, this was not lasting for long. After less than couple of weeks we accepted that remote work as new routine and more importantly clients were determined to keep things moving.

We continue working on advice related to cross-border projects and negotiating on behalf of clients new projects and deals.

What innovative technology have firms employed to help support work during the pandemic?

Majority of our clients are from abroad, so using innovative technologies was not extremely demanding. Being a local law firm and more flexible in its everyday business, since very beginning we are trying to embrace innovations which help us out to be more productive and available.

After the first lockdown announcement, that for some of us more senior had some resemblance to a days of a wartime, we organized online staff meetings aiming to keep people focused on our work. For first days we were focused on providing clients with information about restrictions and new legislation applicable to our clients and soon we continued with regular work on mandates.

While fully supporting remote work, our support staff was organized in shifts making the office available to colleagues if need be, but also organizing delivery of documents, literature and even office supply to a colleagues working from their homes.

Finally, it was important to have our IT support on board so the workload can be processed smoothly and of course agreeing with clients the deadlines that may fit challenging work environment. People had to have opportunity to harmonize parental and other private matters with regular work.

 How are firms differentiated from those operating in Srpska and those in Bosnia?

As mentioned, Bosnia and Herzegovina is complex country, and Republic of Srpska is one of the sub-jurisdictions.

But regardless the administrative division, when it comes to the practicing commercial and corporate law, there is no difference. There are differences in legislation, and there are many sources of laws in different more or less centralized levels of governments throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, but lawyers are allowed to practice the law throughout the country and this is what we all do.

We represent clients and approach courts and authorities and provide advice to our clients in all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not just in Republic of Srpska, and same goes other way around.

The projects and energy space continues to be a thriving sector. Do you expect this to continue or do you predict any changes?

We are proud on our projects and energy practice, this is something that definitely distinguishes us from other law firms in the country. We are taking part in many major projects, advising either public or private side, working for employers, lenders or contractors.

Pandemic had significant impact to the economy of the country and logically, there is a pressure to move ahead with the large-scale infrastructure and energy projects in order to boost the economy.

During past six months we had significant workload resulting from negotiations about new motorway project and preparations of quite a few projects in energy sector. We are expecting this to continue in years to come.

What sets your firm apart from others in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

We have reputation as being oriented not only to the quality of our advice but also having strong commercial approach to solving problems. We have been working for commercial clients for more than 15 years, closely with the highest management, owners and decision makers in all areas of business. That gave us a profile of knowledgeable and business oriented counsels, which goes beyond being only a good lawyer and good administrator of legal documents. For clients this means having a place where all aspects of their endeavour (risks related to management, commercial elements, HR and similar) will be calculated in when delivering relevant legal advice. Without being able to take also those other risks into consideration, legal advice may prove to be rootless and much less useful for reaching business goals for which we are ultimately hired. Our long standing experience and business minded approach guarantees that we understand the environment in all its complexity and that we can perfectly fit inside the best legal advice we are striving to deliver

Loyalty of our clients over past decades indicates that we are able to provide them with a guidance they expect.

Do Brexit- related matters still feature in the work-load? and if so, what kind?

Being based in non-EU country, Brexit related matters are something still distant to us.

We do have some mandates related to analysing impact of the Brexit to local operations of some international clients, but this is rather occasionally. However, we do expect more work in this respect once the outcome of the current negotiations about the deal is known.

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