Interview with: Nikolay Cvetanov, Managing Partner & Asen Apostolov, Attorney-at-Law

Penkov, Markov & Partners | View firm profile

Managing Partner Nikolay Cvetanov and his colleague Asen Apostolov comment on the challenges for Bulgarian business and how the law firm meets clients’ expectations

What do you see as the main points that differentiate Penkov, Markov and Partners from your competitors?

Penkov, Markov and Partners is one of the oldest and most experienced law firms on the Bulgarian legal market which unites the legal practice of expert lawyers ever since 1990. The vast experience in various national and international transactions and other legal exercises accumulated in all those years allows us to better understand the business of our clients, to help them realize their goals and thus to provide much more comprehensive and results oriented service. We believe that the strong business sense, the well-prepared and analyzed strategy, along with the perfectionism of the professionals part of our team, distinguish our firm as one of the leading in the country. Furthermore, our commitment to always strive for even higher standards and job performance motivates us to build on our achievements and tradition and drives us to always look for ways to develop our practice and the way we provide legal services.

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

Speaking about the local Bulgarian environment, we could foresee significant development in a few sectors in the coming year.

Firstly, this is the new regulatory framework and development in the AML/CFT field in Bulgaria. This is a topic which concerns large parts of the locally presented business and it is related to the implementation on EU level of the 4th, 5th and 6th AML directives. Ensuring compliance with the AML/CFT requirements represents a considerable challenge for the obliged companies, respectively sufficient support should be provided in order for the latter to comply with the new set of regulations. Our law firm is definitely the leader on the local market in providing comprehensive legal assistance in this field by preparing respective internal company AML/CFT policies and procedures, individual risk assessments, etc., as well as by assisting various international NGO organizations.

The Bulgarian TMT sector is also rapidly growing which is evident from the recently launched ranking – the FinTech locations of the future where Sofia was given number one position in the cost effectiveness field. This landmark sign of growing market opens new legal niches to be filled by experienced and new technology oriented law firms, such as Penkov, Markov and Partners.

Another sphere where we expect the practice to develop significantly is the Energy field where the Green Deal shall have significant overall impact on the export oriented Bulgarian economy and in particular – the energy sector.

Here could be mentioned also the new EU whistleblowing regulations, as well as the initial discussions on the adoption of Payment Services Directive 3 – again on EU level.

As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis as well, large EU funding has been agreed and is expected to be distributed through various programs in order to stimulate the EU economy (along with innovations, creativity and digitalization). We have been supporting many of our clients (existing and new ones) and various NGO’s in identifying the proper funding programs and to get them prepared for applying for financing which allowed us to generate significant additional experience in working with those new, extraordinary financial instruments. Naturally, most of the new EU programs are expected to be opened in the next 12 to 24 months so this field is expected to generate added value for both the clients and the legal market.

Last but not least, as a consequence of the pandemic situation many producers have decided to shorten their distribution and supply channels. Thus, Bulgaria being one of the countries in the EU with highest cost effectiveness indicators, should potentially benefit from these trends. Respectively, we are expecting increased dynamics in the new investments of international manufacturing companies operating locally, opening large opportunities for our legal team, being well known and ranked for its dominant legal expertise and experience in supporting legally new investments.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

Expectedly, in recent time the main changes have been related to the mechanisms for facing the unprecedented COVID-19 challenge. Our main priority during the pandemic was to promote sustainability and to continue providing our clients with high-quality legal services that correspond to the standards set by our team and the demands of our clients. As a “Law Firm of the Future” (we were awarded with the prestigious award last year in a competition organized by the European Bars Federation), in the recent months we focused our efforts on optimizing the processes of providing digital services, working remotely, as we were fully committed to meeting our clients’ needs with the same level of service, security and care. In order to respond to COVID-19’s near-term challenges, we have formed a specific working group dealing with the constant amendments in various legislative acts related to the new global business environment. Our team is also actively engaged in organizing webinars concerning any hot topics that might affect the business of our clients, thus keeping our partners informed of any significant developments in the legal framework. We have been also supporting our clients, on the one hand, in developing various optimizations of services and on the other, in digitalizing such services, so that we meet the new needs.

Further, we are trying to support those clients of ours whose business has been influenced the most by the crisis, by adjusting our standard applicable fee rates or even by providing pro bono services when it comes to legal assistance related to attracting financing from EU/governmental anti-crisis programs. We genuinely believe that such approach could only strengthen the synergy with our long-term partners and lay the foundations for future joint initiatives and collaboration.

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

Absolutely, having in mind especially the new reality related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The in-person communication with clients which many practitioners were used to, had to be “transferred” to the virtual world. This starts with the use of technology, including video conferencing tools for face-to-face communication and client portals for online collaboration. With the support of technology and at the same time “despite” the technology, during the state of emergency we were strongly focused on providing legal services of the highest level and it is our firm belief that we succeeded in this challenge.

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

In view of the fact that the needs of each client are strictly individual, we aim to offer an adaptive and innovative approach to each case, however, always united around the idea of maximum precision in providing the service. Having said this, we make ourselves familiar with the clients’ values and corporate governance, so we could “feel” the way a particular company, for instance, is doing business and interacts with partners.

What we also focus on is to provide as comprehensive assistance as possible (which, in some cases, is not particularly and explicitly required by the client), resulting sometimes in opening new topics, matters and potential issues which initially have not been considered at all by our partners.

As a practical example of adding value to a business, just recently we managed to arrange a huge financing to a client of ours by connecting him with a very large foreign investment fund which we work with on other projects. This gave the client the opportunity to practically open a new market for its services, i.e. something that, without the ensured financing, could not have been possible.

On a separate note, we have been closely monitoring all possible state and EU financing programs opened to support the economy in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and proactively exchanged exhaustive information for all opportunities which, in turn, resulted in being assigned with large amount of assignments for assistance on preparation of legal applications for such financing.

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

Definitely. In our practice we strive to focus not only on the attorney-advisor and counselor role, but also on connection, deep understanding of the clients business and synergy building, which is key for any long-term relationship. The faster adaptation to the clients’ real needs is clearly fostered also by the continuous expansion of our team’s expertise in new legal spheres which are of utmost importance to our partners. For instance, ever since the beginning of 2016 the compliance topics of personal data protection and measures against money laundering demanded provision of very specifically designed services, incl. in collaboration with technological companies.

Potentially, in the next three years we will put even more focus on digitalization when it comes to providing legal services, of course, in line with the quickly flowing societal and economic changes. Our law firm is structured in a way which gives us the opportunity to adequately get in-line with the fast-paced changes worldwide, as saying that the present year is the perfect example in this regard.