Timur Bondaryev: Cater­ing to Ger­man-speak­ing clients

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Rahim Ra­hem­tulla r.ra­hem­tulla1@gmail.com

Timur Bondaryev, one of the found­ing part­ners at Arzinger law firm, is a self-con­fessed worka­holic. In the years since he opened the prac­tice with part­ner Sergiy Shkl­yar — now a deputy min­is­ter at Ukraine’s Min­istry of Jus­tice — he ad­mits that he hasn’t seen his fam­ily as much as he wants.

Now, at the age of 41, Bondaryev says he is look­ing to strike a greater bal­ance, fenc­ing off sport and fam­ily as “non-ne­go­tiable” when it comes to man­ag­ing his time. It still doesn’t al­ways go to plan, how­ever, with the lawyer ad­mit­ting that when it comes to work he, like oth­ers in his pro­fes­sion, is “a slave to his clients.”

But Bondaryev isn’t one to com­plain. The son of work­ing-class par­ents from Luhansk, he ar­rived in Kyiv hun­gry for suc­cess.

“My par­ents couldn't help me fi­nan­cially, so I had to start work­ing from the first day when I came to Kyiv,” he told the Kyiv Post. “So I had to fight very hard be­cause I wanted to be­come some­thing. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a prop­erty, I didn’t have fi­nan­cial sup­port, so I had to make my­self.”

Look­ing around to­day, nearly 20 years later, he says lawyers of his gen­er­a­tion are shocked by the at­ti­tudes of new grad­u­ates, who de­mand a greater work-life bal­ance and aren’t ready to do things like come into the of­fice on week­ends. Ac­cord­ing to him a ca­reer in law sim­ply can­not de­liver such a life­style.

“It’s un­be­liev­able. The younger gen­er­a­tion, they don’t want to work hard. It’s the big­gest dis­as­ter for us,” he said. “On one hand it’s great be­cause we don’t have com­peti­tors. But on the other hand we are get­ting tired and we want to know who our suc­ces­sors will be.”

The long hours Bondaryev has been putting ap­pear to be pay­ing off, with a long list of awards and ac­co­lades decorating his per­sonal page on the Arzinger web­site. The firm placed fifth in the rank­ing of the top 50 law firms in

Ukraine com­piled by in­dus­try pub­li­ca­tion Yuridich­eskaya Pravda in 2016.

Mul­ti­lin­gual ap­proach Bondaryev didn’t al­ways plan on a ca­reer in law. Grow­ing up in the Soviet Union, his first aim as a stu­dent was to learn for­eign lan­guages so that he could join the diplo­matic ser­vice and travel be­yond the Iron Cur­tain.

But law turned out to be a more en­tic­ing op­tion. Law was where he could more ef­fec­tively ap­ply the Ger­man and English he had per­fected dur­ing his first de­gree at the Hor­livka Academy of For­eign Lan­guage in eastern Ukraine.

Bondaryev said his lan­guage skills have been in­te­gral to the suc­cess of the firm, whose name comes cour­tesy of his first Ger­man part­ner, Rainer Arzinger. When Arzinger died some eight years ago, Bondaryev and his part­ner bought out the name and used it to set up their own prac­tice in Kyiv, mak­ing sure to open of­fices in Lviv and Odesa. Their knowl­edge of the Ger­man lan­guage and men­tal­ity has been a strong sell­ing point.

“We when started to think of our own busi­ness, we saw that there were some English-speak­ing law firms,” said Bondaryev. “But since we knew well the men­tal­ity of Ger­man-speak­ing clients, we knew that they would rather talk in their own lan­guage. So we thought, why not open up a Ger­man-speak­ing shop?”

The strat­egy has led to Arzinger’s books fill­ing up with clients from Ger­man-speak­ing coun­tries, with Bondaryev telling the Kyiv Post that around 75 per­cent of his own work is con­ducted in Ger­man and that the firm has ad­vised on the big­gest Aus­trian in­vest­ments in Ukraine.

Such large deals are ex­actly the type which Arzinger seeks to spe­cial­ize in, tak­ing on as it does only the most com­plex, high-profile cases it can. That places the firm in the premium sec­tor of the mar­ket, with its lawyers able to com­mand from €200 to €450 for an hour’s work.

But it wasn’t al­ways so. Bondaryev re­calls how when Arzinger first came into the mar­ket it had to take on a much greater num­ber of less well-paid cases to sur­vive. To­day it is able to pick and choose its clients.

“Now the trend is that we have far fewer projects but they are much more prof­itable,” said Bondaryev. “We is­sue fewer in­voices but we work on the most com­plex trans­ac­tions, in­ves­ti­ga­tions, ar­bi­tra­tions and lit­i­ga­tions. There are up­sides and down­sides. It’s a huge risk, but I think we are very well di­ver­si­fied.” Cre­ative think­ing Bondaryev has sought to turn Arzinger into a “one-stop shop” by cul­ti­vat­ing com­ple­men­tary ar­eas like tax lit­i­ga­tion and white col­lar crime. This ar­ray of knowl­edge helped the prac­tice get through the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008.

From a start of just two per­sons, Arzinger now has more than 80 em­ploy­ees across its three lo­ca­tions. In Kyiv it re­cently moved into high-end, cus­tom-built of­fices just a stone’s throw from the Gen­eral Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice. Such prox­im­ity to one of the coun­try’s key in­sti­tu­tions of jus­tice pro­vokes mixed feel­ings in Bondaryev, who says part of the firm’s rea­son for mov­ing was to im­prove se­cu­rity.

“Our old premises didn’t meet our am­bi­tions in terms of style, de­sign, lay­out and se­cu­rity,” the man­ag­ing part­ner told the Kyiv Post. “Se­cu­rity is a big, big topic be­cause lawyers in Ukraine, un­for­tu­nately, are quite of­ten raided by our neigh­bor, the Gen­eral Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice.”

Bondaryev ac­knowl­edges that since the Euro­maidan Rev­o­lu­tion that drove Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych from power on Feb. 22, 2014, there have been im­prove­ments in Ukrainian jus­tice. But much re­mains to be done. He says he still sees the ills that have long plagued the sys­tem: of­fi­cials de­mand­ing bribes, law en­force­ment agen­cies be­ing used to carry out po­lit­i­cal or­ders and un­jus­ti­fied court de­ci­sions.

As a lawyer, he says he has come to the re­al­iza­tion that in the face of such odds, the best course of ac­tion is of­ten to avoid Ukrainian in­sti­tu­tions al­to­gether.

“If you are chas­ing a ma­jor politi­cian who is back­ing a ma­jor busi­ness, you have no chance of win­ning,” he said. “The only op­tion is to be cre­ative enough to some­how find a con­nec­tion to the U.K. or some other ju­ris­dic­tion. Th­ese guys don’t ex­pect to find them­selves stand­ing be­fore a U.K., or Aus­trian or Swiss court. We’ve had suc­cess that way.”

For Bondaryev, the fact that Ukrainian courts are not yet trust­wor­thy is, on a per­sonal level, a sad con­clu­sion. But as a pro­fes­sional, it is sim­ply a part of the land­scape which, for the sake of his clients, he can­not af­ford to ig­nore.

“I am a big pa­triot of Ukraine, but I don’t have a choice,” he told the Kyiv Post. “This is what I have been teach­ing my as­so­ciates and my stu­dents. If there is an op­por­tu­nity to take a dis­pute out­side of Ukraine, this is your job. This is your main job. You’ll save a lot of money and a lot ef­fort for your client.”

A mass protest in Kyiv on Dec. 1, 2013 dur­ing the Euro­Maidan Rev­o­lu­tion. Timur Bondaryev of law firm Arzinger says the rev­o­lu­tion that ousted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014, helped re­duce cor­rup­tion some­what. But he be­lieves that if au­thor­i­ties had made greater ef­forts to cre­ate rule of law im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion, Ukraine would now be “a very, very dif­fer­ent coun­try.” (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

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